The forgotten female innovators in tech

The world of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is filled with forgotten women. As such, Ada Lovelace day was created to celebrate women past and present who’ve made notable achievements to the work of STEM. Named after one of history’s most influential women, Ada Lovelace is considered the first computer programmer and the first to recognise the full potential of a ‘computing machine’ beyond simple calculations. 

To celebrate this Ada Lovelace day, we’re shining a light on just a few fantastic pioneers who should be much better known than they are.  

Beatrice Shilling – WW2’s revolutionary engineer 

One of the most recognisable machines of World War 2 is undeniably the spitfire aircraft. It’s often shown in wartime biopics and documentaries as a symbol of victory. But did you know in its early days it had one crucial flaw? Without getting too technical, during dives the aircraft’s engine would often stall.

Enter Beatrice Shilling. Beatrice was an aeronautical engineer, who had been tinkering with motorbike engines since she was a child. In adulthood she joined the Women’s Engineering Society and later the Department of Electrical Engineering at the Victoria University of Manchester. Now you don’t need us to say that a woman seeking an engineering career in 1929 was not the norm. She proved critics wrong and even went on to get her Master of Science in 1933. 

A force to be reckoned with, during the war effort she turned her attention to her passion; engines. She designed a solution called the R.A.E. restrictor, somewhat dubiously known as ‘Miss Shilling’s orifice’ to fix the fundamental issue with Spitfire engines. A brass thimble with a hole in the middle was fitted to the engines that prevented the aircrafts stalling. The solution is often not talked about when we hear of Spitfire’s contribution during World War 2 but was crucial to the RAF’s successes towards the end of the war. 

Marie Van Brittan Brown – a security innovator

In 1960s America, Marie Van Brittan Brown lived in a small New York neighbourhood with a really high crime rate. She was a nurse which meant she worked irregular hours and often walked home alone late at night. 

To make her feel safer while at home alone, with her husband’s support Marie invented the world’s first home security system. It was created using peepholes, a sliding camera, TV monitors and microphones all connected to television sets in her home. Marie could monitor her front door and speak to anyone outside – a feature of many of today’s modern doorbells. Every security system across America and beyond has Marie’s first iteration at its core. Her legacy of helping people feel safer in their homes and at work is something to remember. 

Hertha Ayrton – suffragist and record breaker

Hertha Ayrton was a hugely successful engineer, mathematician, physicist and inventor – not to mention radical suffragette. So why don’t we often hear about her today?

Victorian novelist George Eliot and fellow members of feminist and social justice communities supported Hertha’s ambitions to apply to Cambridge, where she was accepted and went on to pass her mathematical exams, but wasn’t given a full degree – on account of her gender. Not one to be put off, she sat an external exam with the University of London and got her Bachelor of Science degree in 1881.

This is where things get really exciting for Hertha. Her first (of many) major inventions and patents was a device used for dividing lines into equal parts, often used by engineers and mathematicians. After that she went on to register 26 patents on mathematical dividers, arc lamps, electrodes and the propulsion of air. 

However, one of her most impactful inventions came in 1915 when she created a tool used to blow away poisonous gases from the trenches during World War 1. Over 100,000 of these fans were created and used on the Western Front. During her lifetime Hertha also landed the first Hughes Medal ever awarded to a woman. What a legacy!

Celebrating the women of Made Tech 

While this is in no way an exhaustive list of the women who’ve made an impact on the world of STEM, we wanted to highlight just a few this Ada Lovelace day. 

And we couldn’t end a post about record-breaking scientists, engineers and inventors without celebrating the women at Made Tech. Everyday we’re inspired and proud to work with intelligent, driven and innovative women across the public sector, and not least those that make up the Made Tech team.

Want to read more by the team? Take a look at our Life at Made Tech insights

About the Author

Lucy Gordon

Senior Creative Writer

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