Ada Lovelace Day
“Women’s contributions often go unacknowledged, their innovations seldom mentioned, their faces rarely recognized. We want you to tell the world about these unsung heroines, whatever they do.” -- Ada Lovelace Day website
Augusta Ada King, the Countess of Lovelace (1815-1852) wrote the first computer programs, which were used by the Analytical Engine invented by Charles Babbage.
Ada Lovelace Day celebrates the legacy of a lone woman scientist in a field of men. -- and does so, in part, through across-the-board blogging about women in the sciences.
The first Ada Lovelace Day, March 24, 2009, generated hundreds of blogs worldwide, as well as attention on Facebook and in the media.
I decided to sign up on behalf of I.N.K. to blog about women scientists on this day and soon found out that 1,110 other bloggers signed up, as well.
It’s Monday morning, and I’m putting the finishing touches on my Ada Lovelace blog when I find this article in the New York Times: “Bias Called Persistent Hurdle for Women in Sciences”. Tamar Lewin describes the American Association of University Women’s report, "Why So Few?" on the gains that women have made in the sciences, and the issues that still get in their way. Thirty years ago, among high schoolers scoring 700 or more on their math SATs, boys outnumbered girls 13 to 1. The ratio has dropped to 3 to 1, but that’s still proof of chopped sides.
Despite increasing numbers of women receiving doctorates in science, math, and computer science, women don’t represent a parallel percentage of workers or tenured faculty in those fields. The AAUW report focused more on factors that can make a difference in the accomplishments of women and girls -- such as learning that ability can grow with effort -- than on differences in innate ability between the sexes. Researchers found that cultural bias -- an underlying impression that women can’t cut the mustard -- had considerable impact. This bias takes root in any who feel themselves to be on shaky ground, as evidenced by a dramatic difference in performance between groups told that men and women have equal abilities in math and science and those told that men are stronger in these areas.
Many I.N.K. writers have devoted their work to science and to telling children about women in the field. Ada Lovelace Day seemed like the right time to ask some of them to spotlight their stars.
Vicki Cobb: I want the world to know more about Marie Curie because of her passion for science that overcame all the roadblocks life and her times threw in her path. As I summed her up in my biography: Poverty didn’t stop her from getting and education. Marriage only enhanced her personal growth; it didn’t stop it. Children didn’t stop her from pursuing a career, and her career didn’t stop her from being a good mother. Lack of money didn’t stop her from building up the Radium Institute into the world’s premier laboratory for research into radioactivity. Illnesses, off and on throughout her life, didn’t stop her. Grief and the loss of a beloved partner didn’t stop her. Above all, being female at a time when women were second-class citizens who didn’t even have the right to vote didn’t stop her. She was in the news because of her achievements, and because she was a woman she became a target for the press… She was not tempted by fame or the possibility of fortune. Marie Curie was a truly worthy role model for generations to come.
Deborah Heiligman: I would like the world to know more about Barbara McClintock, the geneticist who was the first woman to win an unshared Nobel Prize in the category of Physiology or Medicine. O.K., the way I wrote that, it (and she) sounds dry, but let me tell you, Barbara McClintock, and the story of her hard work and long-delayed recognition, is anything but dry. Barbara McClintock won the Nobel Prize for a discovery she had made decades earlier. She discovered "jumping genes" and it took most other scientists decades to realize she was right. The most amazing part of her story is that even though she was pretty much ignored, and even ridiculed at times, she kept on working on her beloved maize to hone her discovery. How did she have such perseverance? She loved her work, and, as she once said, "I knew it would all come out in the wash." And it did. Her discovery led to great advances in science, especially in studies of cancer, AIDs and other fields of medicine. You can read more about her in my book, Barbara McClintock: Alone in Her Field. I wrote the book because I really wanted to know what kind of person keeps going, working alone, even though no one else understands or appreciates what she is doing. The book is out of print, but if you can't find it in your library, email me. I have some copies.
Karen Romano Young: I want the world to know about Marie Tharp (shown in the picture above), who drew the first image of the ocean floor. It was the U.S. Navy’s Matthew Maury who first mapped the North Atlantic by dropping weighted lines and measuring how far they went, and using his data to draw a profile. In the 1940s and 50s, scientists Maurice Ewing and Bruce Heezen used sonar massively increased Maury’s data to confirm the existence of the underwater mountain chain now known as the MidAtlantic Ridge. Nowadays, we use satellite data to see detailed false-color images of the ocean floor. Ewing and Heezen’s data wound up on the desk of Marie Tharp, who painstakingly drew and painted them into a map by hand, revealing the rift valley that lay between the MidAtlantic range -- and which would later be revealed as a vital center of previously unknown life. There’s more in my books Small Worlds: Maps and Mapmaking and in Across the Wide Ocean: the Why, How, and Where of Navigation for Humans and Animals at Sea.
I also want to mention Temple Grandin, for her kindness to animals, advocacy for them, and contribution to the understanding of different thinkers, including people with autism like herself, whose unique way of seeing the world allows them to make exceptional contributions and encourages the rest of us to take a look at our own thinking and how we, too, can contribute through our own uniqueness. To read Grandin’s book Thinking in Pictures and Other Reports from My Life with Autism is to find all kinds of shared attributes -- when my father read it he decided he, too, might be autistic -- but also to be awed at the way this woman has learned to understand her own mind. As someone who continually struggles with feeling like I don’t have the right kind of mind for certain subjects (history and linear processes in particular), Grandin helped me to look more closely at what I am good at, and to find ways to value and emphasize my strengths.
I hope Ada Lovelace Day inspires other people to spread the word about finding your own strengths in the sciences.