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  • Sandra Corbeil

Women Making History

Consider this …

  • Ada Lovelace is considered the first computer programmer for having written an algorithm that would allow a machine to carry out complex tasks that had not been pre-programmed.

  • Harriet Brooks Pitcher received her master’s degree in 1901; her work helped early researchers understand radioactivity and the structure of the atom.

  • Carrie Derick was the first professor to teach evolution and genetics at McGill University, where she worked from 1912 to 1929

  • Canadian Elsie MacGill was the first woman aircraft designer in the world.

  • Dr. Maude Abbott studied cadaver hearts and wrote Atlas of Congenital Heart Disease, a book surgeons used in the 1930s to create the techniques of cardiac surgery. Because of Dr. Abbott's research, heart surgery can now be done on babies before they are born.

  • Dr. Alice Wilson worked for the Geological Survey of Canada. Before her retirement in 1946 she did her fieldwork alone, because at the time, women were not supposed to work with men.

  • Rosalind Franklin was a skilled X-ray crystallographer and a contributor in the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. Franklin’s research was acquired and interpreted without her permission and in 1962, her male contemporaries were awarded the Nobel Prize, while Franklin, who died four years earlier of ovarian cancer, received no credit.

  • On October 18, 2019 the first ever all-female spacewalk took place when Christina Koch and Jessica Meir were both assigned to a mission. The original date for this historical event was postponed when it was discovered that there were not two spacesuits suitable for women available.

Humankind’s curiosity fuels STEM research and discovery to which women have always contributed. According to UNESCO women comprise 28.8% of researchers worldwide despite representing about 50% of the population.

Women’s History Month is a great time to celebrate achievements but also to take note of missed opportunities and push for better equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in STEM. If this month snuck up on you don’t worry – there are other times of the year when you can use your voice, your platform, and your spaces to engage with Canadians on EDI in STEM.

When to Engage

Each year, Women's History Month is October and includes International Day of the Girl on October 11, and Persons Day on October 18.

World Science Day for peace and Development

November 10 annually

International Day of Women and Girls in Science

Feb 11 annually

International Women's Day

March 8 annually

3 Ways to Engage

1 - Raise awareness

There are many good resources available to help you raise awareness in your community. For example, you can download and print these amazing posters for your meeting rooms, staff rooms, classrooms or even in the stalls of bathrooms (why not!).

2 - Be a catalyst for conversations

Have a ‘lunch and learn’ with your colleagues, or use classroom time to explore some of the issues. One way to get started is by using these handy discussion guides developed by Ingenium and the Laurier Centre for Women in Science – they centre around the free posters mentioned above.

3 - Take a deeper dive and learn more. Use your local library or consider exploring the Canadian Archives of Women in Science.

There is so much history in science that you’re sure to find the contributions of women, no matter the niche. The more you know, the more you can share. The more we share, the more inclusive we will continue to be in encouraging the next generation in STEM.

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