This month is Women’s History month! History is disproportionately focused on men, but there are so many more women that have contributed to history – but their stories are often hidden. Here we want to expose some of these women and their amazing stories…
Art: Karin Larsson
Karin Larsson used her craft skills to transform her home and in turn inspire the ‘Swedish Style’ that Ikea has taken around the world. Educated as an artist, Karin was also the wife and collaborator of the Swedish painter Carl Larsson. While raising eight children, Karin channelled her artistry into her home design and decorations. She developed a new style that was light, elegant and relaxed. She experimented with techniques, designing furniture and weaving textiles that were bold and colourful that today, Ikea has taken inspiration from in their designs.
Science: Marie Curie
Marie Curie studied rocks containing uranium and discovered the elements polonium and radium. She also paved the way for scientists to later discover the ability to split the atom and build the first nuclear reactor.
In 1903, Marie and Pierre were awarded the Nobel Prize for physics jointly with Henry Becquereal for their combined, though separate work on radioactivity. Marie Curie was the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize. In 1911 she was awarded a second Nobel Prize for her contributions to chemistry as a means for measuring radioactivity.
During World War One, Marie learned that the army only had one X-ray machine. She raised funds and resources and took mobile X-ray machines to the battlefields, with her daughter Irene, aged only 17. The X-ray wounds saved thousands of lives and led to civilian use of X-ray technology.
Marie Curie died in 1934 from leukaemia, likely to have been caused by her experiments and repeated exposure to X-rays on the battlefields of France.
A new film telling Marie Curie’s story is being released in March – Radioactive is a must see movie recognising her amazing work!
Technology: Gladys Mae West
Gladys is an American mathematician known for her contributions to the mathematical modelling of the shape of the Earth. Her work on the development of the satellite geodesy models was eventually incorporated into the Global Positioning System (GPS).
At her school, people who came top of the class were offered a scholarship to the local university. Her family “didn’t have a whole lot of money” so she worked hard and graduated first in her high school class, securing that scholarship. She went on to major in maths; a course where she had very few female classmates. Like many of her female classmates she went on to teach for a few years but her career really accelerated in 1956. She was offered a role at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in the US state of Virginia. There was just one other black woman and two black men that worked alongside her. One of the men she worked with, Ira West, would later become her husband.
Gladys collected and processed data from satellites, using it to help determine their exact location. It was this information that would go on to help develop GPS. Then she worked with programmers on the functions the massive computers needed to do.
She retired in 1998, but following a few years of travel, she returned to education and completed a PhD, in the midst of deteriorating health. She was finally recognised for her work in December 2018 by the US Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Hall of Fame at the Pentagon. Aged 90, Gladys is an inspiration to anyone who is considering studying STEM subjects and we wanted to celebrate the contribution she has made to society this month!
“When you’re working every day, you’re not thinking, ‘What impact is this going to have on the world?’ You’re thinking, ‘I’ve got to get this right.’