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Remembering Forgotten Female Scientists this Women’s History Month  

Written by Vaishnavi Peyyety, Red & Black Current Events Staff Writer   

This statue commemorates the first year female students were allowed to attend W&J in 1970. (Courtesy W&J College)
MAR. 3,2023 – Internationally, the percentage of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is significantly lower due to a variety of other barriers impeding equality in this field. According to Anne Marie Imafidon, a British-Nigerian computer scientist and CEO of a company that promotes women pursuing STEM careers, many young women grapple with the social norms of those who pursue STEM, lack exposure to people working in STEM fields and have fewer connections with people in the industry among other factors.  
According to Stanford University, women on average are paid less for entry level jobs and experience shorter careers with minimal growth. Nevertheless, over the past few decades, there has been a dramatic increase in representation. Several women in STEM have overcome challenges and persevered to increase scientific knowledge and understanding. It is vital to recognize these women to amplify the voices of women and gender minorities in STEM. Diversifying the STEM field is incredibly important, as giving opportunities for people with different perspectives allows greater innovation and discovery.   

Alice Ball, an African American chemist, discovered an essential treatment for Leprosy also known as Hansen’s Disease. This disease is a chronic infectious disease that causes skin lesions and nerve damage. If left untreated, this infection can lead to disability and severe complications, including crippling of hands and feet, paralysis, chronic non-healing ulcers, and blindness. Originally, there was no treatment for this condition with infected individuals kept in isolation till death. She was able to identify an injectable medicine for this condition.  
Alice Ball was the first female and first Black chemistry professor at the University of Hawaii. (Courtesy Unknown, Obtained from Wikipedia Commons Public Domain)
Shortly after Ball passed away in 1916, the head of the laboratory, Arthur Dean, published this finding as “Dean’s method.” After colleagues raised awareness about this misattribution, the name was changed to “Ball’s method.” In 1918, 78 people who received this treatment were able to survive. Ball’s other accomplishments include being the first Black female chemistry professor at the University of Hawaii. Her accomplishments are especially compelling given the fact that she held this position almost 50 years before the Civil Rights Act was signed into law and before women even had the right to vote in the U.S. 
Dating back to the 1800s, Eunice Foote, an American scientist, pioneered and theorized the greenhouse effect which was originally credited to British scientist John Tyndall. She published her important findings: when placing glass cylinders with different gases in the sun, the sun rays caused more temperature change in moist air than dry air. Many overlooked these findings established in the American Journal of Science. Furthermore, Foote was not permitted to present them at scientific conferences, and three years later, Tyndall was given credit for “discovering” the greenhouse effect. 
"A nurse and accredited physiotherapist Bessie Blount transformed many WWII veteran’s lives by helping them develop new skills to accomplish daily tasks. She developed a self-feeding apparatus for amputees and various other devices to alleviate daily stressors. "
An Australian and Swedish physicist Lise Meitner discovered nuclear fission which is the ability to split atoms. She suggested bombarding uranium atoms with neutrons resulting in uranium decay. This was an important finding as it led to the development of various nuclear weapons. Due to her Jewish origins, Meitner was forced to flee to Stockholm during the Holocaust and therefore could not complete her research. Her other male research colleagues Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman partnered to explain fission and were ultimately credited with the discovery. Despite her significant contributions and multiple nominations for awards, Meitner did not receive any physics and chemistry Nobel Prizes. Nevertheless, a couple decades later, Meitner was awarded the Enrico Fermi Award with the two other male researchers for the discovery of fission.   
A nurse and accredited physiotherapist Bessie Blount transformed many WWII veteran’s lives by helping them develop new skills to accomplish daily tasks. She developed a self-feeding apparatus for amputees and various other devices to alleviate daily stressors. She was the first Black woman to appear on a TV show named “The Big Idea” where she shared her modern inventions. However, she was unable to gain public support which may be due to various factors, including her identity as a Black woman in healthcare. Her donation of the patent for the feeding apparatus to the French government allowed for many to benefit from this invention as well.  
Furthermore, women part of the LGBTQ+ community have historically not been recognized for their contributions to medicine and science. One example is Sara Josephine Baker who was openly gay and focused on public health, specifically with immigrant communities in New York City. She advocated for greater medical access in various parts of the city and carried out training procedures for healthcare professionals. Barker is one of many queer women in science who are often forgotten though they have made a large impact on our community today.  
It is vital to bring attention to these figures and many others who have revolutionized our communities. Doing this can encourage young minority individuals to pursue different careers that they may not have envisioned initially. In light of women’s history month, we must pay homage to females who have carved the path to our world.  
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