Every year on February 11, you can celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. This year’s assembly at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City will take place on February 10. In addition to promoting full and equal access for women and girls to participate in science, the day is also a great time to recognize the role that women and girls play in science and technology.
Why Does It Matter?
Considering that 164.38 million males and 167.51 million females were living in the United States on July 1, 2021, it seems a bit weird that women account for only 35% percent of all students enrolled in areas of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). If the general population consists of more females than males, why are so few women engaged in STEM? Maybe it would help if women and girls had more opportunities to learn of other famous scientists who are female.
Examples of Famous Women and Girls
- Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000)
Hedy Lamarr is most famous for her career as an actress, but she was also a self-taught scientist. She did not disclose her Jewish heritage when she married her first husband at the age of 18, and when he developed increasingly strong business and social ties with Adolf Hitler, she had to get away to safety. She fled in disguise from Austria to Paris in 1937, then began working in the United States.
When World War 2 began, Lamarr felt she needed to do something besides fundraising to help the Allies. She and her neighbor, avant-garde composer George Antheil, created technology to jam radio-controlled torpedoes, which caused the weapons to go off course. Dubbed “the mother of Wi-Fi” and other wireless communications, such as GPS and Bluetooth, Lamarr was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014.
If you think this story needs to be turned into a spy movie, I agree! A beautiful actress marries an evil Nazi arms dealer, then after escaping him, she tries to help the world by creating technology to use in the war. Her example is so empowering, not only for women in STEM, but also for women who have survived domestic violence.
- Jane Goodall (1934-)
Jane Goodall began studying at Cambridge for her Ph.D. in ethology and finished her thesis in 1965, before she became famous for her work with chimpanzees. At Gombe National Park in northwestern Tanzania, Goodall lived full time with the chimpanzees and observed them for more than 15 years. Known globally for her work campaigning to protect animals, she and has written numerous books on her experiences.
Wow! Goodall spent 15 years living with and studying chimpanzees because she was passionate about protecting them. I don’t know if I would be able to live outside of a city for more than a year, but maybe reading more about Jane Goodall will make me want to explore the jungle. Who knows?
- Mamie Phipps Clark (1917-1983)
Mamie Phipps Clark grew up in Arkansas and attended Howard University as a math major before switching to psychology. She then became the first black woman to graduate from Columbia with a Ph.D. in psychology. Her husband, Kenneth Clark, was the first black man to graduate from Columbia and received the same degree as his wife. The Clarks published three papers in 1939 and 1940, exposing internalized racism in black children. Their experiments were involved in the famous Brown vs. Board of Education case, and both testified as expert witnesses for the court.
Although Mamie Phipps Clark switched her major from math to psychology, which isn’t a STEM subject, she did break barriers to achieve her own education goals. And even more significantly, she fought for the right of every black student to an equal education.
How to Celebrate
Many women and girls who have helped change the world through their work are unknown and unrecognized for all they have done. Not only on International Day of Women and Girls in Science, but every day, you can try to learn about the people who have devoted their life passions to helping others.
Ask girls you know if they would consider pursuing a career in this field.
Think about what the world would be like if there were more women in this field.
Maybe you’d like to watch a film about women in STEM for empowerment and knowledge this month. Some good movies include Hidden Figures, Big Hero 6, Black Panther, Avatar, and Atlantis: The Lost Empire.
Jessica Frye is studying social work at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga and wrote this while an intern at RiseUP Cooperative.