5 Women Who Weren't Given Credit For Their Inventions & Discoveries

Suruchi Patwary , 08 Mar 2021
Mary Anderson & Hedy Lamarr (Source: Instagram | @history_al_yawm, @hedyslamarr)
Mary Anderson & Hedy Lamarr (Source: Instagram | @history_al_yawm, @hedyslamarr)

Isn’t it frustrating when you work on a project and someone else takes the credit for it at work? A lot of women have experienced men taking or being given credit for their own work that had nothing to do with those men. The reasons for this are various, but none of them are justified. And this isn’t a new-age or modern scenario. Throughout history, women have been sidelined for their groundbreaking discoveries/inventions and men taking credit for them. Below, we’ve listed 5 such revolutionary women who were not given justice for their work in history.

1. Mary Anderson For Windshield Wipers

It was 1902 when Mary was visiting New York City and she noticed how her driver had to get out of the car and wipe the snow falling on the windshield by himself. So, when she went back home to Alabama, she drew her invention of windshield wipers and got a patent. Unfortunately, manufacturing companies at the time weren’t interested in doing anything with her patent and Mary did not have any prominent ‘male’ connections in the industry who could help her idea turn into a reality. And so, her patent eventually expired and later car companies ripped off her idea of windshield wipers. But she did live long enough to witness her idea turn into a reality and appear on almost every single car in the country. Although she was introduced into the Inventors Hall of Fame in 2011, she never really got compensated monetarily for her invention!

2. Trotula Of Salerno For Women’s Health Findings

If you thought misogyny was a recent concept, here’s an example of probably one of the earliest victims of it from the eleventh century! Known as ‘the world’s first gynecologist’, Trotula Of Solerno was an Italian doctor who specialised in and wrote about women’s health. And it’s her writings that have helped us build our basic knowledge about human and specifically women’s health. But her authorship was doubted in the coming centuries, only because medical professionals and historians didn’t believe a woman could have created such accurate and important work. And as illogical as it may sound, this assumption snowballed into them questioning if she ever even existed! This doubt of her existence conveniently allowed various male physicians in the coming years to replace her name with theirs over her work.

3. Rosalind Franklin For The Double Felix

The double helix formation was uncovered in the twentieth century, a revelation that helped majorly with our understanding of human DNA. And while this was one of the most vital scientific discoveries of the time, it has also sadly been the most disputed one with regards to credit.

James D. Watson and Francis H. C. Crick, Cambridge University scientists, are credited with the revelation of the double helix formation. But the real person behind it was Rosalind Franklin, a British chemist and X-ray crystallographer. In 1951 at King’s College in London, Rosalind had been working on the study of DNA when she put together a revolutionary image. But a colleague of hers showed this image to Crick and Watson without seeking her permission. This was when the duo’s research took a major turn and when they finally published their findings in 1953, they gave only passing remarks to Rosalind’s contribution in it. And so, it is now Crick and Watson who are credited for the double helix and not Rosalind. In fact, they even received a Nobel Prize for it in 1958, just four years after Rosalind passed away due to ovarian cancer.

4. Hedy Lamarr For Wireless Communication

This was during World War II. Hedy Lamarr was a Hollywood legend at the time but she also worked with composer George Antheil on her concept of ‘frequency hopping’. This concept would have prevented military radios at the time from being bugged. But her patent was not taken seriously and just classified and filed away by the US Navy, until a little later when they started working on building technologies based on it. Of course, they gave no credit to Hedy whatsoever.

Thankfully, a researcher came across the original patent by Hedy and she was finally given the Electronic Frontier Foundation Award in 2000, a little before her death. But it wasn’t total justice as her concept of ‘frequency hopping’ is the reason why we have been able to develop new-age technologies like Bluetooth, WiFi, and even GPS. And she didn’t receive a single penny of the multi-billion dollar industry that her invention helped build in the first place!

5. Margaret Keane For The Big Eye Paintings

This isn’t exactly a case of miscredited invention or discovery, but of the chauvinistic mentality and greed during the 60s. Margaret Keane, an American artist was popular in the 1960s for her trademark ‘Big Eye’ paintings. But the issue was, people who loved her art at the time were convinced that those were in fact her husband Walter’s paintings and not hers.

In the 1950s, Walter started selling Margaret’s paintings as his own without ever seeking permission from her. And when she eventually discovered what her husband was up to, she confronted him. This only led to Walter intimidating, threatening and emotionally abusing his wife to keep her silent. The paintings started receiving more and more popularity and he enjoyed being a celebrity while Margaret continued to be sidelined. Finally, the couple got divorced in 1965 and 5 years after their divorce, Margaret came out with the truth to the public. Walter denied all her claims and this led to courtroom paint-off between the two in 1986. During the paint-off, Walter said his sore shoulder prevented him from painting and obviously, Margaret created a perfect big eye painting that matched her earlier works. This led to her gaining the rightful claim to her paintings finally!

There’s even a movie made on this story called Big Eyes starring Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz.

So the next time you think letting a man take credit for your work is not a big deal, think twice! It has been going on for centuries and there’s no reason for it to continue being so.

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