5 Female Scientists Whose Discoveries Were Credited to Men

year ago

Virginia Woolf once said, “I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.” Throughout history, women have struggled to find their voice. And it comes as no surprise that a substantial number of female scientists throughout history have been overlooked simply due to their gender. From the early codes of computer programming to Monopoly and the creation of Wi-Fi, female inventors failed to receive the accolades they deserved because society didn’t take them seriously.

1. Menstrual pads — Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner

Mary Kenner received 5 patents in her lifetime. She is not just a remarkable 20th-century inventor, but also someone who holds the record for the most patents awarded to an African American woman. In 1957 Kenner saved enough money for her first and most noted patent for the sanitary belt. It was long before the advent of disposable pads and tampons, and women were still using cloth pads and rags during their period.

Kenner proposed an adjustable belt with a built-in, moisture-proof napkin pocket, making it less likely that menstrual blood would leak and stain clothes. “One day, I was contacted by a company that expressed an interest in marketing my idea. I was so jubilant,” Mary said. “I saw houses, cars, and everything about to come my way.”

A company rep drove to Kenner’s house to meet with their prospective client. But after the meeting, they suddenly broke the deal. Kenner faced the same racial discrimination wherever she turned for an investment. Eventually, without financial support, Kenner’s patent expired. Other companies could then legally make and sell her idea, and she made no profit.

2. Disposable diapers — Marion Donovan

Everett Collection / Old Visuals / EAST NEWS, © agefotostock / Alamy Stock Photo, © 2xSamara.com / Shutterstock.com

Marion Donovan was one of the most successful women inventors of her era, having received 20 patents in total. In the ’40s, women had very few options for their babies. It was mainly just cloth diapers and rubber pants, which caused painful diaper rashes.

Donovan was a young mother who was sick of changing wet crib sheets. She pulled down her shower curtain, cut it into pieces, and made it into a waterproof diaper cover with snaps instead of safety pins and called it the Boater.

But manufacturers weren’t interested in her idea. As Donovan would tell Barbara Walters in 1975, “I went to all the big names that you can think of, and they said, ‘We don’t want it. No woman has asked us for that. They’re very happy, and they buy all of our baby pants.’ So, I went into manufacturing myself.”

In 1949, she started selling “The Boater” at Saks Fifth Avenue, where it was an instant smash hit. 2 years later, she sold her company and her patents for a million dollars.

3. Pulsars — Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Jocelyn Bell Burnell discovered irregular radio pulses in 1967 while working as a research assistant at Cambridge. It became one of the most marvelous astronomical discoveries of the 20th century. Jocelyn showed her discovery to her advisor, and the team started working together to study this phenomenon.

However, Burnell received zero credit for her discovery. Instead, her advisors, Antony Hewish and Martin Ryle, received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1974. Burnell later admitted, “I may not have got the Nobel Prize, but I’ve won countless other awards, including ’Most Inspirational Living Woman Scientist.’”

4. DNA double helix — Rosalind Franklin

Rosalind Franklin made a crucial contribution to science. Her X-ray photographs of DNA revealed the molecule’s true structure as a double helix and laid the foundation for James Watson and Francis Crick to suggest that the structure of DNA was a double-helix polymer. They ended up receiving a Nobel Prize for their research together with Maurice Wilkins, a colleague of Rosalind.

Franklin’s involvement in DNA research was halted by her untimely death from cancer in 1958. But her colleague Aaron Klug continued her research and ended up winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1982. Later in an interview, he said about Franklin, “Well, she was an absolutely first-class experimenter. She actually—she had energy and enthusiasm and tremendous skill and insight.”

5. Dark Matter — Vera Rubin

Vera Rubin is an astrophysicist who confirmed the existence of dark matter. Her discovery is among the most important breakthroughs in astronomy, explaining many observations that had been puzzling scientists for decades.

She worked with astronomer Kent Ford in the ’60s and ’70s, when they discovered the reasoning behind stars’ movement outside of the galaxy. She’s dubbed a “national treasure” but Rubin was never awarded a Nobel Prize because of her gender.


Get notifications
Lucky you! This thread is empty,
which means you've got dibs on the first comment.
Go for it!

Related Reads