Women’s History Month: Shining a Light on Women Pioneers in Engineering and Science

Women’s History Month is the perfect time to delve into the contributions of trailblazing women in science and technology. Often, within STEM disciplines, the accomplishments of women have been sidelined or even hidden. This month, let’s change that narrative and put pioneering female engineers and scientists in their rightful spotlight.

By sharing the stories of these women, teachers can provide inspiring examples for their students, particularly young women interested in STEM.

Celebrating Seven Remarkable Inventors and Scientists

Hertha Ayrton (1854-1923): The Arc Whisperer

Born Phoebe Sarah Marks in England, Hertha Ayrton was a British engineer, physicist, mathematician, and inventor who defied the social norms of her time. As a young woman, she attended Girton College, Cambridge, where she studied mathematics. A passionate advocate for women’s rights, she was an active suffragette. Ayrton’s groundbreaking work on electric arcs, used for early lighting, won her the prestigious Hughes Medal for original research.

Notable Discoveries & Research

Ayrton registered several patents, including a line divider (a mathematical drawing instrument), searchlight improvements, and the Ayrton fan, used to dispel poisonous gases in World War I trenches.


Ayrton’s research enhanced the understanding of electrical arcs essential for early lighting technologies. Despite discrimination, she became the first woman elected to the Institution of Electrical Engineers, breaking down barriers for women in the field.

Learn more about Hertha Ayrton on ETHW

Marie Curie (1867-1934): Radioactivity’s Radiant Rebel

Born Maria Sklodowska in Poland, Marie Curie was a physicist and chemist whose work transformed our view of the world. In an era with significant obstacles for women in science, she faced poverty and sexism to pursue her education in Paris. Curie became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize—and remains the only person to win it in two different scientific fields (Physics and Chemistry).

Notable Discoveries & Research

Curie revolutionized our understanding of radioactivity by discovering the elements polonium and radium. Under difficult conditions, she pioneered research into radioactivity, and her work with X-rays had a profound impact on the medical field.


Curie’s research formed the basis of modern cancer treatments, diagnostics, and the advancement of nuclear physics. She defied societal expectations, establishing institutes for scientific research and remains a towering inspiration for women in science.

Learn more about Marie Curie on ETHW

Beulah Louise Henry (1887-1973): Inventor Extraordinaire

Known as “Lady Edison,” Beulah Louise Henry was a prolific American inventor with over 49 patents. From a young age, she demonstrated an aptitude for invention. Her inventions, often focused on practical innovations, solved everyday problems and frequently had commercial success. She founded multiple companies to market her inventions, demonstrating her entrepreneurial spirit.

Notable Inventions

Some of her most successful inventions include a bobbin-less sewing machine, an early vacuum-sealed ice cream freezer, a typewriter that made carbon copies, a hair curler, and numerous toys and novelties.


Henry’s inventions were often focused on simplifying everyday tasks and improving convenience. She demonstrated incredible ingenuity, entrepreneurship, and her prolific output of inventions showcases a constant dedication to creative solutions.

Learn more about Beulah Louise Henry on ETHW

Grace Hopper (1906-1992): The Bug Slayer of Computer Science

Grace Hopper, affectionately known as “Amazing Grace,” had a long and distinguished career as a U.S. Navy Rear Admiral and pioneering computer scientist with a strong mathematical background. During World War II, she joined the Navy Reserves and was assigned to work on the Harvard Mark I computer. A driving force in early computer development, she co-developed COBOL, one of the earliest high-level programming languages, making programming accessible to a wider audience.

Notable Work

She helped popularize the concept of machine-independent programming languages and famously coined the term “bug” for computer glitches after removing a moth that had caused a malfunction.


Hopper’s leadership and contributions revolutionized the field of computing, leading to the development of more accessible programming languages. She championed the idea that computer code should be easily readable and understandable.

Learn more about Grace Hopper on ETHW

Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000): Hollywood’s Secret Signal Genius

Hedy Lamarr is better known for her role as a glamorous Hollywood actress but was also an ingenious inventor of Austrian-Jewish heritage. Frustrated by the lack of depth in conventional roles, she pursued her interest in science and technology. Concerned about the war effort during WWII, she teamed up with composer George Antheil to develop technology to help the Allied forces.

Notable Invention

Their collaborative work on frequency-hopping spread spectrum technology intended for torpedo guidance during World War II laid the groundwork for for modern wireless communication systems.


Though not immediately implemented at the time due to technical limitations, this technology paved the way for modern wireless communication systems like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Lamarr’s story defied expectations of a Hollywood actress, showcasing intellectual depth and a dedication to using her talents to solve important problems.

Learn more about Hedy Lamarr on ETHW

Katherine Johnson (1918-2020): The Rocket Wrangler of NASA

Katherine Johnson was an African-American mathematician whose precise calculations of orbital mechanics were crucial in the success of early U.S. space missions. Working for NASA as a “human computer,” she faced segregation and had to overcome significant racial and gender barriers. Through dedication and brilliance, she broke through, gaining the trust of astronauts like John Glenn, who requested her calculations specifically.

Notable Work

Johnson played a pivotal role in the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs, including calculating the trajectory for Alan Shepard’s first spaceflight and the Apollo 11 lunar mission. Her later work helped with the implementation of the Space Shuttle program.


Johnson’s work helped shatter racial and gender barriers at NASA. Her story highlights the importance of recognizing the hidden contributions of marginalized individuals in STEM and the power of perseverance in overcoming adversity.

Learn more about Katherine Johnson on ETHW

Adele Katz Goldstine (1920-1964): The ENIAC’s Code Commander

Adele Katz Goldstine was a mathematician and a gifted teacher who became a pioneering computer programmer. Early in her career, she worked as a “human computer” performing calculations for the U.S. Army during World War II. Recognizing her talent, she was selected for the top-secret ENIAC project, one of the first electronic general-purpose computers. She wrote essential technical manuals and trained the first ENIAC programmers (all women at the time).

Notable Work

Goldstine’s technical descriptions and training manuals were critically important in making the ENIAC project successful. Her later work on the UNIVAC project further advanced the field of computing.


Her crucial work laid the groundwork for modern programming and the development of user-friendly computers. Goldstine often remains overlooked despite her crucial role in the history of computing, and her work was instrumental in paving the way for programmers today.

Learn more about Adele Katz Goldstine on ETHW