Today is Ada Lovelace day! If you’re not familiar with Lovelace, she was a 19th century writer and mathematician who was hugely influential in the design and development of Charles Babbage’s analytical engine, which would have been the world’s first computer had Babbage ever been able to find the cash to build it. (She also happened to be the poet Lord Byron’s only daughter, although she never knew him.) Lovelace’s work on the analytical engine was arguably just as important as Babbage’s, and her notes as to using the machine to process an algorithm that would calculate a series of Bernoulli numbers (a mathematical sequence that you can read more about here if you’re interested) means that she has the distinction of creating the world’s first computer program. In honor of Lovelace and the day devoted to remembering her work, here are five other women who’ve been massively influential in traditionally male-dominated fields.
An all-time Flavorpill favorite and inspiration, Derbyshire was an audio engineer at the BBC Radiphonic Workshop during the 1960s. She’s best known for her entirely electronic arrangement of the original theme to Doctor Who, which is a landmark in the development of electronic music. Derbyshire produced plenty of other music that was way ahead of its time during her tenure at the Workshop, and also worked with avant garde collective White Noise — but after leaving the BBC in 1973, she effectively retired from music. However, with resurgent interest in her work during the 1990s and early 2000s, she returned to the public eye, and was working with ex-Spacemen 3 mainman Sonic Boom on a new record when she died of renal failure in 2001.
One of the more fascinating figures of the 20th century, Earhart’s pioneering achievements in aviation have been well-documented — amongst other things, she was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, and the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to California. Sadly, however, she’s probably best-remembered for her mysterious disappearance in 1937 while attempting what was then the longest round-the-world flight in history. Even now, there are plenty of theories as to exactly where her plane went down — what is known for sure, however, is that she inspired plenty of her female contemporaries to do things that the men of the time insisted they were unable to.
You might argue that being the person to discover radioactivity, only to die from prolonged exposure to its effects, is a pretty raw deal. But despite its disastrous personal consequences, Marie Curie’s pioneering work on the study of radioactive materials — at first with her husband Pierre, and then alone after his death in 1906 — has been a huge influence on the development of both science and medicine. She remains the only person to win a Nobel prize in two scientific fields (physics and chemistry.)
“I was born a bitch,” Kahlo once famously proclaimed. “I was born a painter.” She was also born with a strength of character that allowed her to survive a bout of polio at the age of six and a serious automobile accident at the age of 18. Her iconic self-portraits were innovative both in their uncompromising honesty and also in their incorporation of Mexican and native American mythology. While in her lifetime her work was overshadowed by that of her husband Diego Rivera, it’s Kahlo’s paintings that have proven to have the most enduring influence.
Joan of Arc
Perhaps the most famous woman of all, and certainly one of history’s most dramatic examples of a woman succeeding in a man’s world. She was burned at the stake for her troubles. The world is a shitty place sometimes.