Today marks 100 years since certain women gained the right to vote. On February 6 1918, the Representation of the People Act passed, allowing women over 30 with certain property qualifications to cast their vote.
While it’s a day to remember – and celebrate the heroism of – suffragettes including Emily Davison, Flora Drummond and Emmeline Pankhurst, it’s also a time to recognise all brilliant women throughout history who have changed our lives today, just like those fearless women did 100 years ago. These are the world-shaping, life-saving and downright delicious inventions by 10 brilliant female minds.
Patented in 1969, Marie Van Brittan Brown’s closed circuit television security consisted of a motorised camera and four peepholes. The camera could move between peepholes, and the resulting images were displayed on a monitor. Her invention was originally intended to provide individual home security, as police were slow to respond to calls in her New York borough, and became the framework for modern CCTV used for surveillance, crime prevention and traffic monitoring.
Next time a particular kind of man distinguishes between ‘girls’ and boys’ drinks’, soak up the sheer delight of watching his face fall when you say that beer was invented by women, and this is therefore, a ‘girl’s drink’. Jane Peyton, a beer historian (err, why did our careers advisor at school not mention this was an option?), believes that for thousands of years, it was only women who were allowed to operate breweries and drink beer. Nearly 7,000 years ago in Mesopotamia and Sumeria, women were the first to develop, sell and drink beer, her research suggests. While we can’t say who exactly created the first-ever cool and crisp pint that we all enjoy down the local boozer, it was sure as hell down to an ancient babe somewhere.
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Oh, Josephine Cochrane, you were a goddess among men. In 1887, the wealthy Illinois socialite wanted a better way to protect her china while it was being washed by her servants. The wire compartments of her dishwasher, each specifically designed to fit plates, cups or saucers, were placed inside a wheel in a copper boiler. A motor turned the wheel, and hot soapy water spouted from the boiler, raining down on the dishes. By the 1890s, Cochrane was receiving orders for her invention from restaurants and hotels in Illinois.
All those trust-destroying family feuds and/or hours of wholesome fun playing this game? You have Lizzie Magie, also from Illinois, to thank for that. In 1904, Magie’s invention, ‘The Landlord’s Game’, was released as a critique of capitalism, which makes it bitterly ironic that Charles Darrow ripped it off 30 years later and sold it to the Parker Brothers. Magie was eventually paid $500.
5. Fire escape
In 1897, the first outdoor fire escape with an external staircase was patented by Anna Connelly. Around this time, buildings were getting bigger and higher, and fire department ladders in cities could generally only reach the fourth floor. In the 1900s, Connelly’s invention became part of many building safety code requirements across the US.
6. Medical syringe
Born in New York in 1852, Letitia Mumford Geer created a syringe which would form the basis for most modern medical syringes. It could be operated with only one hand, and the patent was granted in 1899.
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7. Computer algorithm
London-born Ada Lovelace, whose father was Lord Byron, was something of a totally mind-blowing mathematical genius. She worked with Charles Babbage at the University of London on developing mathematical algorithms for programming an ‘analytic engine’ (an old-school computer), creating her ‘the first computer programmer’.
8. Chocolate chip cookies
Ruth Wakefield is a name that will go down in foodie history, especially with those of us who have a sweet-tooth (so, basically all of us at GLAMOUR HQ). In 1930, Wakefield was baking cookies for the guests in her lodge, and realise she’d run out of baking chocolate. Instead, she used pieces of a Nestle semi-sweet chocolate bar, and when the chocolate didn’t mix in and melt during baking, the beloved chocolate chip cookie was born.
One of the first women research chemists, Stephanie Kwolek discovered a liquid crystalline polymer solution in 1971, the incredible strength and stiffness of which led her to invent Kevlar, a synthetic material which is five times stronger than steel. It’s used to make bulletproof vests, boats, planes, ropes, cables and so much more.
10. Stem cell isolation
This was a groundbreaking and hugely complex invention – and has been crucial to our understanding of cancer. Ann Tsukamoto is a co-patentee of a process to isolate the human stem cell, which has led to incredible advancements in understanding the blood systems of cancer patients. The hope is that, one day, it could lead to a cure for cancer and many other diseases. Tsukamoto is directing further research into stem cell growth and cellular biology at Stem Cells, Inc., in California. And she, like the other nine women on this list, is also our new idol.
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