Five Discoveries Made By Women That Were Credited To Men
As Virginia Woolf famously said, “I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.” Historically speaking, women have often been side-lined, either due to peer pressure, lack of opportunity, or flat-out sexism. And many times, women who made discoveries weren’t given credit for their work. Be it the early codes of computer programming, the discovery of the DNA double helix structure, or the splitting the atom, men have mostly claimed those advancements as their own.
These men merely didn’t steal women’s ideas. They published them under their own names, won prizes for them, earned millions from them, became noteworthy men of their time, and iconised in retrospect. While the women whose insight, and intelligence they appropriated ended up merely being footnoted, both in reality and through the lens of history. Here is a list of five such things invented by women that were credited to men.
Rosalind Franklin: DNA Double-Helix Structure
The scientist duo Watson and Crick are credited with uncovering the double helix formation that would catapult the understanding of human DNA. But the hidden fact is that it was Rosalind Franklin who, while researching at King’s College in 1951, took the X-Ray photographs of DNA double-helix structure. In fact, she presented the photographs in a conference before Watson and Crick’s groundbreaking publication, which itself stands to prove that they were not the first ones to discover it. The story goes that Franklin’s photographic discovery confirmed the existence of the ‘double helix’ theory that Watson and Crick were trying to prove. And the pair published their study alongside the image in 1953, without giving due recognition to Franklin for her contributions. They even received the Nobel Prize in 1962 for their study, shortly after Franklin’s death in 1958. She never received credit for her discovery in her lifetime.
Ada Lovelace: Computer Programming
Ada Lovelace, the legendary poet Lord Byron’s daughter, played a significant role in the development of modern computers. She collaborated with Charles Babbage and worked with him on his ‘Analytical Machine’, which was an early prototype of the computer. Lovelace served as its key interpreter and wrote detailed notes to Babbage. Her ideas mark the earliest recorded proposition for what’d eventually become computer programming and algorithms. Years later, historians would dispute that Lovelace actually wrote the notes. As a woman who rode horses, played the harp and studied poetry, Lovelace was called “a manic depressive” even by the Babbage historian Bruce Collier. The truth was that for the longest time, scholars did not want to admit that a woman could work out such difficult scientific problems. Although, after a detailed study of the correspondences, it was eventually revealed that the notes belonged to Lovelace.
Elizabeth Magie Phillips: Monopoly
Did you know that the game monopoly was invented by a woman named Elizabeth Magie Phillips as, ironically, a protest against the monopoly of men? Phillips initially named it ‘The Landlord’s Game’. Her board game aimed to demonstrate the benefits of Henry George’s system of land-grabbing economics and protest monopolists like the Rockerfellers. Philips did file for a patent of the game, but as the game was becoming popular amongst niche circles, Charles Durow stepped in and secured a copyright for his own ‘enhanced’ version. He called it Monopoly, and his version featured a few variations that made it easier to play. Durow then sold his game to Parker Brothers, and Phillips’s name was largely lost in history.
Lise Meitner: Nuclear Fission
It was the German scientist Lise Meitner who alongside her lab partner Otto Hahn discovered how to split atoms. But sadly, it was Hahn who took all the glory for the discovery. As the Nazis rose to power during the 1930s, Meitner, who was Jewish by birth, was forced to flee her home country. She continued collaborating with Hahn from her new location in Scandinavia. In the early 1940s, they discovered the phenomena of nuclear fission. It’s said that Meitner herself wrote the first theoretical explanation of the fission process after the discovery. But Hahn chose to omit his partner’s name during the publication of their research. Thus, Meitner was never recognised for her contributions, and it was only Hahn who was the sole recipient of the 1944 prize in chemistry from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
Candace Pert: Neuroscience Findings
Candace Pert, while being a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University, discovered the then most sought-after objects in brain research: a receptor that allowed opiates to lock into the brain. This revelation was game-changing for the field of neuroscience, as it led to the finding of a fundamental element of brain chemistry. The discovery was deemed so important that it earned the coveted Albert Lasker Award, often a precursor to the Nobel Prize. Sadly the award was not given to Pert. All the credit for Pert’s findings were taken by her professor Dr Solomon Snyder, and hence even the award was given solely to him. In fact, when Pert wrote a letter of protest to the award committee overlooking her contributions, Dr Snyder told her in response, “That’s the way the game is played.”
These are merely five names out of a substantial number of female discoverers who have been overlooked throughout history simply due to their gender. Since the society did not take them seriously, several men found opportunities to appropriate their discoveries and take credits for it, while these women remained forgotten. It is very recent that the names of these women have come out of the shadows of history. And their stories need to be recounted again and again, so that the next generation of girls and boys know the names of the real contributors behind the world’s most important discoveries.