Trailblazing Women in History

Returning from an intense conference in New York this past spring, my colleague Kirsten Roeber and I debated one of the hot topics presented –  artificial Intelligence (AI). 

It appears that we are only at the beginning of AI’s influence. And our discussion inspired me to reread one of my favorite sci-fi books “I,Robot” by Isaac Asimov, written in 1950.  One of the main characters, Dr. Susan Calvin is a Robopsychologist with United States Robots. In the book, she shares the stories of humans and robots struggling to survive together and sometimes against each other with an eerie, prescient lens. 

Though Dr. Susan Calvin is fictional, there are many real life women with vision and grit who have built and are building foundations for our world, pushing and shaping the future. 

Continuing my thread of researching trailblazing women, I uncovered some great inspirational stories that I thought I would share. The industries they represent are in the fields of Finance, Aviation, Technology and Inventions.  


Women in Finance

 An interesting invention that came about during the time of typewriters came from Bette Newsmith Graham. Graham was a single mother working as an executive secretary at Texas Bank & Trust when she saw a need for correcting typewriting errors on paper from the ink ribbon. She created a concoction in the early 1950s that worked as a correcting liquid for typewriting mistakes. This product became popular among the office, and she eventually sold her product called Liquid Paper.

Women Inventors 

There would be no Microsoft Word, no Google Docs, without Evelyn Berezin. As the only woman in her office in 1951, Berezin was told to “design a computer.” And without having ever seen one before, she did–to great success. In 1969, she founded the Redactron Corporation, a startup in Long Island and the first company dedicated to manufacturing and selling her computerized typewriters. Berezin called her machine the “Data Secretary,” and while it looked pretty different from the computers we know today (it was about the size of a small refrigerator with no screen), it changed the game for secretaries by allowing them to edit, delete, cut and paste text.

Women in Aviation 

After hearing about the exploits of French and American aviators during the First World War from her two soldier brothers, Bessie Coleman became passionate about aviation and decided to learn how to fly. But at the time, the United States was marked by racial segregation, and no flight school agreed to teach her how to pilot. Therefore, she moved to France, and after seven months of training, she became the first person of African American and Native American descent to hold a pilot’s license, which she obtained on June 15, 1921. Her dream to open a flying school that would allow African Americans to learn how to fly was not realized until two years after her death in a plane crash, when, in 1928, William J. Powell opened the Bessie Coleman Flying School and the Bessie Coleman Aero Club in Los Angeles. 

Women in Technology

Data scientist and inventor Valerie Thomas, who also worked at NASA for over three decades, invented the illusion transmitter to send three-dimensional images across distances. She received a patent for her invention in 1980, and scientists today are still innovating ways to use the device in medical and technology applications. Thomas’ work at NASA included managing the development of the “Landsat” image-processing system, the first satellite to send images from outer space.

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