WoW Blog (Woman of the Week) Blog

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.

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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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