Ft. George G. Meade, MD. –
Every year, March is designated Women’s History Month by presidential proclamation. The month is set aside to honor women’s contributions to American history. Started in 1978 by the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County (California) Commission on the Status of Women as a “Women’s History Week,” the event spread and was first recognized nationally by President Jimmy Carter in 1980.
These are just a handful of the thousands upon thousands of notable, famous, and unfortunately forgotten women who have helped shape science, technology, history, and every other part of America’s history.
“These great women broke the mold and paved the way for so many women to pursue and advance in fields of technology, engineering, and science,” said Senior Master Sgt. Fabrienne C. Doriott, U.S. Cyber Command acting Commandant and J6 Senior Enlisted Leader. “Their work was just the beginning and, we continue to build upon their work.”
Women’s History Month is a good opportunity to reflect on the famous and relatively unknown women that helped advance science and technology for the United States and that is used every day at U.S. Cyber Command. From computer programming to GPS to sending humans into space, women have played and continue to have an important role.
Most members of the computer and cyber community are familiar with Navy Rear Adm. Grace Hopper. She was instrumental in computer and programming language development from the 1930s through the 1980s, and developed the first computer language written in English rather than mathematical notation. Her most famous version, Common Business Oriented Language, is still in use today.
Before modern computers and calculators, engineers relied on humans to perform complicated mathematical calculations. One of these human computers was Edith Clarke. Clarke was a pioneering electrical engineer who struggled to find work in the early 1900s as a female engineer. Her perseverance paid off, though and in 1922, she became the first professionally employed female electrical engineer in the United States. In 2015, Clarke was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Some women have made it their priority to promote women and minorities in STEM. Maria Klawe is a shining example of this. She went from being a prominent computer scientist to being the first female president of Harvey Mudd College. During her tenure there, she worked hard to support the Computer Science faculty’s ability to innovate and raised the percentage of women majoring in computer science from less than 15 percent to more than 40 percent today.
Marjorie Lee Browne was a famous mathematician who pioneered the field of mathematics, specifically relating to algebra.
After Brown graduated, she applied to the University of Michigan’s math graduate program. In the mid-1900s, access to quality education was challenging for African Americans who wanted to advance themselves. The University of Michigan was one of the few institutions in the U.S. that accepted African American students.
Browne spent her summers with local teachers, filling them in on the wonders of linear algebra. She recognized that increasing the involvement of black women in STEM was crucial to get more young people involved in mathematics. Browne is also responsible for setting up the first computer center at a historically black university.
Another woman who made it her life’s work to inspire interest in science among young people was Sally Ride. Ride made history when in 1983, she became the first American woman to fly into space. After retiring from NASA, she founded Sally Ride Science, an organization dedicated to supporting students interested in STEM.
Ellen Ochoa was the first Latina to go to outer space. She was a research engineer and inventor who created optical systems for aerospace missions. She was then selected to be an astronaut and served as director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston from 2013 to 2018. She continues to speak at schools and conferences to inspire young girls to focus on their education because that was the key to her success.
While many more brilliant and innovative women could be on this list, it is also important to remember the unnamed women that were behind some of the most complicated and ground-breaking feats of science throughout American history.
During World War II, six women led a secret project to program the first all-electronic programmable computer. The women were not named when the project was introduced to the public in 1946. Betty Snyder (later Holberton), Kathleen McNulty (Mauchly), Jean Jennings Bartik, Ruth Licherman (Teitelbaum), Frances Bilas (Spence), and Marlyn Wescoff (Meltzer) achieved the task they were given with no manuals or program languages and were responsible for the success of the Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer or as it is known today, ENIAC.
Because of the labor shortage during World War II, the Tennessee Eastman Company recruited young women, primarily high-school graduates, to operate the calutrons that used electromagnetic separation to isolate uranium. Despite not knowing what they were working on, the “Calutron Girls” proved highly skilled at operating the instruments and optimizing uranium production, producing better results than the male scientists they worked with. Their work later was instrumental to the Manhattan Project.
At U.S. Cyber Command, our female service members are leading at various levels of the command from Hunt Forward Team Lead to senior enlisted leaders. We rely on them for their fierce devotion to the country as well as their innovation and expertise, not just today, but for the future as well.