The First Women of STEM

Emilie_Chatelet_portrait_by_LatourWe are so totally deep diving brainstorming over here for the #FierceWoman podcast and part of what we’d like to investigate is origin stories.

How did you get started in your field? Who inspired you?

How did you get HERE?

For me, when I read about (OR MEET!) incredible people, I am inspired by their stories and pick and choose parts of their philosophies or methodologies or something that resonates with what I am doing and where I am going at the time.

Reading about the first women in STEM inspired me exactly that way – I want to LEARN ALL THE THINGS now.

Emilie du Chatelet, First Woman of Science

I KNOW. Not Marie?

As usual, the Smithsonian Magazine says it best:

When it comes to the topic of women in science, Marie Curie usually dominates the conversation. After all, she discovered two elements, was the first women to win a Nobel Prize, in 1903, and was the first person to win a second Nobel, in 1911. But Curie was not the first female scientist.

Initially Emilie follows the typical life of a French courtier – married with children – but then at age twenty-seven she studies mathematics and physics. THEN she has an affair with Voltaire, who also loved science, and they had all kinds of scientific collaborations together. She is still known for her French translation of Isaac Newton’s Principia, still used today.

Ada Lovelace, First Woman of Technology


Technology is a MASSIVE spectrum (as is science and engineering and mathematics, don’t you think?) – from hardware to software to all the other technological advances over the years, but for the purposes of this post, we’re going with abstract computer language.

Ada Lovelace, First Woman of Programming

Ada (because I’m on a first name basis with these amazing women, of course) is widely cited as the first computer programmer because of her notes from her English translation of Charles Babbage’s lecture at the University of Turin about his Analytical Engine, a proposed general-purpose computer. Ultimately, the computer was never built and therefore Ada’s program was never tested, however:

It is considered the first algorithm ever specifically tailored for implementation on a computer, and Ada Lovelace has often been cited as the first computer programmer for this reason.

Hypatia of Alexandria, First Woman of Engineering

The history of women in engineering predates the development of the profession of engineering.

Before engineering was recognized as a formal profession, women with engineering skills often sought recognition as inventors, such as Hypatia of Alexandria, who is credited with the invention of the hydrometer.

Nope, no degree for Hypatia. She JUST studied mathematics and philosophy and astronomy SO WELL that she was IN CHARGE of the Neoplatonic school of Alexandria. In her copious spare time she invents things like the hydrometer that measures the relative density of liquids. There’s some scandal about this as it’s reputed that this was already in existence in her time, but she was also murdered by a mob of angry Christians, so it’s clear that she made some interesting enemies.


Hypatia of Alexandria, First Woman of MATHEMATICS

That’s right, Hypatia again.

Who else wants to travel back to Alexandria and LEARN?

Hypatia lived in Ancient Greece – in Alexandria which is now in modern day Egypt and was the daughter of Theon who was a philosopher and mathematician. Hypatia assisted her father with his mathematical works, and wrote many other works of her own. Unfortunately all of Hypatia’s work is lost and we only know the titles and other people’s references to it. Despite this, she is still considered to be a great mathematician of the ancient world.

Who inspires you? Why?

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