WoW Blog (Woman of the Week)

Each week this blog will feature a prominent woman who made significant contributions to engineering or science. If you have any women you'd like us to feature please let us know and we'll do our best to include them.

Do you know of a great woman in engineering that should be recognized? Let us know! Submit a few paragraphs about that person and we'll add her to the blog. Please provide a citation for the material that you submit so that we can verify it. Please note - it has to be original material. We cannot publish copywritten material or bulk text taken from books or other sites (including Wikipedia).

Woman of the Week – Elsie Shutt

Posted January 20, 2020 4:30 PM by lmno24

Elsie Shutt was one of the first women to start a software business.

She was born in New York City in 1928. Her family soon relocated to Baltimore, Maryland. Her father died when she was only four. Her mother worked as a chemistry technician. It’s likely that she was inspired by her mother, as she went on to earn a chemistry degree from Goucher College - her mother’s alma mater.

She went on to complete a graduate fellowship at Radcliffe College and then became the second female teaching fellow there.

One summer, she got a job at the U.S. Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. There, she learned how to program on ENIAC (the first electronic general purpose computer) successor ORDVAC (Ordnance Discrete Variable Automatic Computer) under Dick Clippinger.

In 1953, she was hired by Clippinger at Raytheon, an aerospace and defense manufacturing company. Under the law in Massachusetts at the time, when she became pregnant in 1957, she was forced to quit.

But Raytheon was simultaneously starting to scale back programming projects, so clients who came to the company were referred to Shutt. She worked on a freelance basis out of her home. Eventually, she saw enough business that she decided to start a company that would allow her to help clients but also employ women in a technical field, which was a rare opportunity at the time.

She founded Computations Incorporated (CompInc) in Harvard, Massachusetts. The company mostly designed programming for businesses and scientific companies. Shutt kept the company small with about 13 employees maximum. She mostly hired young mothers. She hoped to change the stereotypes of women in the workplace and wanted to show that women were more than capable of holding a technical job and raising a family.

The company was very successful. They landed many large contracts, including work on the operating system for Honeywell’s new mainframe as well as government contracts and university agreements.

There is little information about her life in the years after the company. All that’s to be found is her husband Philip’s obituary from 2012. The couple had three children.

1 comments; last comment on 01/21/2020
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Woman of the Week – Arlene Gwendolyn Lee

Posted January 13, 2020 4:30 PM by lmno24

About 60 years ago, Arlene Gwendolyn Lee “Gwen” was graduating from Allenby Junior Public School in Toronto. Upon graduation, she was given notice to continue her studies at a trade-type school across town. Her parents were furious and went to the school demanding to know why she wasn’t selected to attend the academic college-preparation academy nearby. The principal said the decision was made and noted that it might be wise for her to learn a trade before she started a family.

This anecdote of her early years comes from a blog post penned by her son, Reginald Braithwaite.

A few days later, she, her father and her two uncles returned to the school. The men shared their anger with the situation and the principal went back on the decision.

She attended North Toronto Collegiate where she learned, thrived and discovered her passion for music. She graduated and went on to attend the University of Toronto.

In her free time, she attended dances. One day, she met a man named Charles and they quickly fell in love. They hoped to rent an apartment in a nice neighborhood and live a happy life together. But because Charles was white and Gwen was black, at the time, renting a shared apartment was illegal.

They needed to buy a home to live together, but they needed to find well paying jobs to do so. Gwen saw a newspaper ad for Empire Life who hoped to hire young men for a career in data processing. The role required no previous experience and the interview was open to any men who showed up.

She went and the interviewers let her know she was in the wrong place and to go to another room for the keyboarding exam, Reginald Braithwaite wrote. She was determined to take the test though. She asked if she could and they reluctantly agreed. The questions were mostly logic based and she did extremely well. She placed in the 99th percentile and the interviewers were shocked.

In fact, they thought her responses were too good to be true and they wondered if she had cheated. They grilled her with questions, but after numerous correct answers, it became clear they’d be foolish to not give her a chance.

She became a programming analyst, the most senior position at the time. She led numerous computerization projects for the insurance and municipal fields, her son noted.

While she had a successful career, she noted that not all women can say the same.

“I had it easy,” she later told her son. “The computer didn’t care that I was a woman or that I was black. Most women had it much harder.”

She’s now retired and spends time running a small business selling books online, her son wrote.

Last year, the New York Times Magazine featured Gwen’s story, along with many other women in coding. We’ll feature them on this blog in the coming months.

3 comments; last comment on 01/17/2020
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Woman of the Week - Sarah Goode

Posted January 06, 2020 4:30 PM by lmno24

Sarah Goode was an African American entrepreneur and inventor. She’s the first African American woman to officially receive a U.S. patent.

Technically, Judy W. Reed was the very first African American woman to patent an invention, but she didn’t sign hers. She only wrote “X” on the patent for an improved dough roller design.

Goode was born in 1850 to a family of slaves in Toledo, Ohio. When the Civil War ended, the family was granted freedom and moved to Chicago, Illinois. There, she met Archibald "Archie" Goode who she married and had six children with. Archie was a builder and upholsterer; the family opened a furniture store to sell their goods.

As customers came in to shop, they all seemed to have similar issues. Many lived in small, working-class apartments and didn’t have much room for furniture or storage. Average sizes of tenements were about 25 feet wide and 100 feet long.

She came up with an idea – a combination bed and desk that folded up when not in use.

When the bed was folded up, the piece served as a fully functioning roll-top desk for work or reading. At night, the bed would fold out. Along the sides were drawers and compartments for storage as well.

Her creative solution helped people feel less cramped in these small apartments and served as a precursor for other space saving inventions, like the Murphy bed.

She applied for a patent in 1885 and became the first African American woman to ever be granted one in the United States.

Sarah Goode died in Chicago in 1905 and is buried in Graceland Cemetery.

2 comments; last comment on 01/11/2020
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Woman of the Week – Patsy O’Connell Sherman

Posted December 30, 2019 4:30 PM by lmno24

Patsy O’Connell Sherman was an American chemist who co-invented Scotchgard – a durable stain and water repellent.

She was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1930. During high school, she took a career aptitude test that told her the best path for her was to be a housewife. She refused to accept the result and asked to take the boy’s test. Those results showed dentistry or science as a fitting path.

She acted upon the results and earned Bachelor’s Degrees in chemistry and math from Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota.

She started working at 3M right away. She was assigned to develop a rubber material that would not deteriorate during contact with jet aircraft fuel.

One day in 1953, a lab assistant spilled some of one of the chemical mixes on her white canvas sneakers. The drops, though invisible, would not come off, but as she wore the shoes the spot where the mix dropped remained clean while the shoes got dirty.

Sherman and fellow 3M chemist Samuel Smith noticed this and began working on a way to improve upon the useful accident. She hit some roadblocks during this process. For example, the tests were often run in 3M’s textile mill, but women weren’t allowed inside at the time.

Their joint research over the years eventually lead to the fabric stain repellent Scotchgard. The brand grew quickly and is still widely used today. Sherman held 16 patents related to the discovery, 13 of which were shared with Smith.

She married Herbert Shuman and had a child, but defied the “norm” of the times and remained at 3M until retirement. She advanced through the ranks and retired in 1992 as the manager of technical development.

She was also an advocate for women in science. Her two daughters both work in science, one at 3M and the other owning a precision optics company.

"Girls should follow their dreams," she said in a 1994 Star Tribune interview. "They can do anything anybody else can do. They have many more role models today -- not the least of whom might be their mothers."

Sherman was the first woman inducted into 3M's prestigious Carlton Society in 1974, which honors the company's top scientists. She was named to the Minnesota Inventors Hall of Fame in 1989 and to the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2001.

She died at 77 in 2008.

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Woman of the Week – Bette Nesmith Graham

Posted December 16, 2019 4:30 PM by lmno24

We’ve all made a mistake when writing and needed a bottle of liquid paper to correct the mistake. We can thank Bette Nesmith Graham for the ability to do so.

She was born in 1924 in Dallas, Texas. She dropped out of high school and went to secretary school. By 1951, she had worked her way up to the position of executive secretary for W.W. Overton, a high level bank executive.

In her day-to-day work, she used the newly invented IBM typewriter but quickly grew tired with having to redo an entire page when one small error occurred. She was determined to find a more efficient system.

One day, painters were decorating the bank windows for the holidays and when they made a small error, they simply painted over it with a new layer. This observation served as the inspiration for what would become her namesake invention. She mimicked what the painters did during her typewriting using white tempera paint to cover small errors.

The other secretaries loved the idea and started to request their own supplies of the paint mixture. By 1956, she had sold her first bottle of “Mistake Out” and soon recruited her son and his friends to help her with production. The boys were paid $1 an hour to fill nail polish bottles with the solution and label them. She continued to experiment with the formula until she achieved a quick-drying but opaque product. The refined product, a mixture of paint and other chemicals, was rebranded as “Liquid Paper” and she applied for a trademark and patent in 1958. She mostly kept her work a secret, but one day she accidentally signed a bank letter with the name of her private side business and she lost her job.

But, that gave her the time to fully devote herself to making her invention succeed. Graham's Liquid Paper Company experienced tremendous growth over the next decade. By 1967, the company had an automated production plan and its own office.

In 1975, they moved to a 35,000-square foot operations center in Dallas. She sold the company to Gillette Corporation four years later for $47.5 million, just six months before her death in 1980.

Her son, Michael, who is known for his membership with the 1960s rock group The Monkees, was left in charge of her fortune and nonprofits.

8 comments; last comment on 12/19/2019
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