Mama Writes: In Praise of Women Inventors

(Just recently, I stepped down from my position as Managing Editor/contributing writer/columnist at Mamazina Magazine. This appeared as the last installment of my column, Mama Writes, in the Fall/Winter 2010 issue)

Because women should be praised all of the time…..

Where would the world be without women? Women are the inventors of life, the single most important force on the planet. There have been many women who have been either ignored altogether or passed the invention off to the credit of a man. From the very mundane, most practical items (brown paper bags!) to nuclear fission; from Hypatia to Hedy Lamarr (Yes, the actress!), women have been inventing throughout history.

Inventions abound on the domestic front, though most are considered as improvements to make life better and easier. No woman won any awards for these. They were merely looking for a better solution to the drudgery of housework and raising their children. Such women as Melitta Bentz, inventor of the drip coffee method; Marion Donovan, the disposable diaper; Anne Moore, the Snugli baby carrier and Margaret Knight, brown paper bags, all made life a little simpler.

One of my favorites for ingenuity is Mary Peck Butterworth. Everybody wondered how she got her fortune. She counterfeited Rhode Island currency in the 1700s while living in Massachusetts and, essentially, never got caught. There wasn’t enough evidence! Among the doctors/healers/mothers was Dr. Virginia Apgar, for whom the Apgar Score is named -a critical test for newborns in hospitals today. She was a leader in her field but would never get as far as she would have liked because of her gender.

Many women who have made some of the most astounding and important discoveries of our time have been overshadowed by men or simply dismissed for being too far ahead of their time.

Take Lady Mary Montague: she invented the smallpox vaccine nearly a century before Edward Jenner. Guess who got the credit? Then there was Nettie Stevens (a native Vermonter), who discovered the X and Y chromosomes in 1905. At the same time, a male scientist, Edmund B. Wilson, was conducting the same study. Who is more remembered for that discovery today?

Sometimes it seems as if we, as women, have not come far at all, and at times, even fall a step or two backwards. Granted, we are not torturing ourselves wearing whale bone corsets as a ‘necessary’ item of clothing, nor are we struggling for our right to vote (that only took 200 years). But, we are still underpaid in the work force; we are still struggling, as mothers, as women to adequately support our families, and ourselves. We are still struggling to balance work with family.

But organizations like MomsRising and websites like MOMocrats have been a platform to raise our voices and be heard on subjects like fair pay, maternity/family leave and healthcare.

These women inventors have paved the way for so many of us today. They deserve to be praised everyday, not just on Mother’s Day or Women’s History Month.

You can find Kris on Twitter, Facebook and writing occasionally at her blog.


About Kris Underwood

Kris Underwood is the Social Media Manager at Hunger Mountain (Vermont College of Fine Arts). Poetry has appeared in several publications including MotherVerse, and Poetry Midwest. I read books & write about them on my blog sometimes.

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