The Electrifying Story of Engineer Edith Clarke

Edith Clarke with one of her electrical system patents
Orphaned in 1895 in Baltimore, Edith Clarke excelled in mathematics and dreamed of being an electrical engineer at a time when there were no female engineers in that burgeoning new field of technology. Ultimately she went into the Hall of Fame as one of the most important electrical engineers of the 20th century and was also America’s first female university engineering professor.

For most of us, America’s vast electrical infrastructure is something we take for granted, rarely think about until it goes down, and don’t really understand. But for Edith Clarke it was the stuff of dreams. A pioneer in electrical engineering, and role model for every young woman pursuing a STEM education today, she used the power of math to improve our understanding of power transmission at a time when engineering was a man’s world and women just didn’t “do” science.

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Delia Derbyshire – Unsung Hero of Electronic Music 1937-2001

An electronic music pioneer in an age of analog equipment, Delia Derbyshire devised the jury-rigged recording and sound manipulation techniques that became the Doctor WHO theme song.

Think of a song born of wind bubbles, visual swoops, clouds and something called a “wobbulator.” Hummable, with a strong beat, but totally unique. One of the most-heard and instantly recognizable pieces of music today. Give up? It’s the theme for the popular British TV sci-fi series Doctor Who; and it was created by Delia Derbyshire, referred to as the “unsung hero of British electronic music.”

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Why is a Crater on the Moon and an Asteroid Named for Maria Mitchell?

Maria Mitchell and female astronomers from Vassar
America’s most prominent female scientists in the second half of the 19th century, Vassar Professor Maria Mitchell is shown here in the 1880s with students from her astronomy class.

She is the only champion of women’s rights in the last two centuries to have both a crater on the moon and an asteroid named in her honor. Maria Mitchell was a star of 19th century American science who used astronomy to expand the boundaries of what women could expect and achieve. Her life and work are a root of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) movement that today draws ever larger numbers of young women to scientific careers. But, ironically, Mitchell is not well know to most of them.

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History-Making Black Professor and STEM Advocate Josephine Silone-Yates

Josephine Silone-Yates was an academic leader in the world of African American schools and pioneer in the field that would later be called STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) for women. Above is the lab at Lincoln Institute where Professor Silone-Yates headed the Chemistry Department.

Josephine Silone-Yates, the first African American certified to teach in Rhode Island public schools, also became America’s first black female college professor and the first black female to head a major college science department. Aside from her role in the field of what would later be called STEM education, she also became a national advocate for the rights of black women.

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Bessie Blount Griffin: Inventor, Crime Fighter, Hospital Wonder Woman

Above is Bessie Virginia Blount Griffin’s patent for an invention that enabled paralyzed or limbless veterans of World War II to feed themselves.

That Bessie Blount Griffin became a inventor, physical therapist, business women, forensics expert and social activist before she passed on in 2009 is all the more remarkable, given that she was born in an era before women — particularly African American women — could expect opportunities in any one of the multiple fields in which she ultimately succeeded. Her life is a lesson in tenacity, irrepressible creativity and a deep sense of empathy for the people and causes she helped.

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Mary Walton: Female Inventor Who Succeeded Where Edison Failed

Mary Walton, inventor
In the 19th century when females were given no credit for engineering savvy, Mary Walton was a rare standout. Her drive and mechanical creativity improved New York City’s elevated railroads.

A practical and creative nineteenth-century boarding house owner, Mary Elizabeth Walton was used to solving mechanical problems. So it was only natural that, when the noise and smoke of the elevated railway next to her building became intolerable, she set out to reinvent the era’s train technology — and succeeded, even where Thomas Edison himself had failed.

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