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Nine Awesome Women who Defied Gender Roles with their Inventions

Throughout history, women were (and unfortunately still are) seen stereotypically as the “weaker gender” -- the ones who were best put to use cleaning kitchens and taking care of their children, the ones who should dedicate their time to pleasing the husbands who “owned” them, and, most of all, the ones who were too “fragile” and “vulnerable” to be associated with the terms “tough,” “strong,” and “brave.” These words were far too “masculine” for a woman of the time, right?

It turns out that many essential items considered to be the pinnacle of “manliness” during the 1800’s and 1900’s were actually designed and/or created by women. In honor of the International Day of the Girl, here are some amazing ideas brought to life by women, even if the products they made were considered too “masculine” or “smart” to be created by one… as if sexism ever stopped these powerful inventors.


Chemist Stephanie Kwolek invented Kevlar, a bulletproof material that is five times stronger than steel, by accident in 1966.

Marine signal flares

After finding sketches created by her late spouse that described the concept of signal flares, Martha Costen worked for ten years to create a working model. Most credit for the invention went to her husband in 1859 even though Martha did the majority of the work.

Circular saw (for woodworking)

Like Costen, Tabitha Babbit didn’t receive the all of the credit she deserved after inventing the circular saw for woodworking in 1813. Babbit, who worked as a weaver, thought of the design and built a prototype that she connected to her spinning wheel. Over time, her design was developed into the electric saws used today (as shown above).

Marine lamp & telescope

Sarah Mather patented the Marine Lamp and Telescope in 1845. Very little is known about the process by which she created it.

Invisible glass

Katharine Blodgett, the first female scientist to work at General Electric, created invisible glass in 1935. This special material is completely transparent, like typical glass, but has no distortion or glare.

Computer hardware & software

Grace Hopper achieved many accomplishments throughout her career in Computer Science. She helped build the Mark 1 computer for Harvard with the help of Howard AIken; collaborated to create an early-modern computer language, COBOL; won the Computer Science Man of the Year Award (yes, “Man”) in 1969; coined computer-related terms such as “bug;” and served in the military.

Outdoor fire escape

The outdoor fire escape was invented by Anna Connelly in 1897.

Caller ID

Shirley Ann Jackson played an instrumental role in the creation of Caller ID. She was also the first African-American woman to earn an MIT Doctorate.

Frequency-hopping technology

Aside from being a world-famous actress with MGM, Hedy Lamarr was an avid inventor. She is known for developing frequency-hopping technology with George Antheil during World War II. This technology advanced radio tech; prevented Nazis from detecting Allie’s weaponry; prevented radio signals from being jammed by eavesdroppers; and became the basis of GPS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. After patenting the design in the 1940’s, Lamarr donated it to the U.S. Military and did not profit from her invention. She also worked with Howard Hughes and figured out how to make his planes more streamlined.

Of course, one of the most quintessential points of feminism is that every woman has the ability to participate in what fulfills them. For some women, that is diving into a male-dominated field and inventing for the military. For other women, that is running a home smoothly or being a loving mother to her children. This is the beauty of feminism -- every woman should have the right to choose what she wants to do and be respected for it. Highlighting women in male-dominated fields by no means signifies that the amazing women who choose to spend their time otherwise are any less deserving of recognition. But no matter what your plans are for the future, you have to admit -- these women are some pretty awesome role models.


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