Special Report

Greatest Women Innovators and Inventors

Patricia Bath (1942-2019)
> Field: Medicine

Patricia Bath was a ground-breaking ophthalmologist and laser scientist, but also an educator, activist, humanitarian, and inventor. She battled racism and sexism in getting her ideas recognized, but found ways to make a difference for people all over the world. She is most famous for developing an advanced device for removing cataracts – the laserphaco – which is still used today, but she spent much of her life on a “right to sight” campaign, particularly on behalf of poor people. As one of the founders of the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness she traveled the world performing surgery, lecturing, and drawing attention to disparities in the availability of health care.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Maria E. Beasley (1836-1913)
> Field: Invention

Four of the life rafts used on the Titanic were designed by Maria E. Beasley, an inventor who created a collapsible life raft that, among other things, had guard rails and a reduced storage size – innovations still used today. She held 15 U.S. patents and two British patents for her various inventions, including a barrel hooping machine, a steam generator, and a foot warmer.

Source: gorodenkoff / iStock via Getty Images

Bessie Virginia Blount (1914-2009)
> Field: Healthcare

Trained as a physical therapist, Bessie Blount began a career as an inventor caring for WWII veteran amputees. She developed ways to help them to live independently, such as devices to allow them to feed themselves. Her inventions were patented in France when the U.S. Patent office turned down her applications. Blount’s work involved her in forensics and she became a respected forensic scientist, working for police agencies in the U.S. and becoming the first Black woman to train and work in Scotland Yard in London.

Source: Marie Van Brittan Brown / Wikimedia Commons

Marie Van Brittan Brown (1922-1999)
> Field: Home security

Born in Queens, Marie Van Brittan Brown made her living as a nurse, working long hours and arriving home late at night. Living in a high crime neighborhood, she worked at ways to make her home more secure, and ultimately, with the help of her husband, an electrical technician, she created the first home security system. Using a camera, peep holes at different levels of the entrance of her house, and microphones, she could see and communicate with anyone who came to her door. Her inventiveness brought her recognition and provided the foundation for modern home security.

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell (1943- )
> Field: Science

As a graduate student, Northern Ireland-born Jocelyn Bell Burnell discovered pulsars, dead stars that spin through space emitting radio waves. Pulsars have proven to be of inestimable value in the field of astrophysics as tools for measurement, discovery of gravitational forces, and testing of theories of physics. Burnell was awarded a $3 million Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics, and donated the money in support of graduate students in physics from underrepresented groups in Britain.

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