Celebrate Women's History Month with 12 awesome things invented by women.

The month of March (aka Women's History Month) holds a special place in my heart.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.


March is the month in which we celebrate kickass women like Rosie the Riveter, the notorious RBG, and Ripley from the "Alien" franchise. It's the month in which we all watch "A League of Their Own" at least twice as many times as we watch it every other month (which, for me, is six times).


GIF from "A League of Their Own."

Of course, it wouldn't exactly be controversial to claim that many of women's achievements often go overlooked by their coworkers, clients, and even the media ... sometimes until years after the fact.

So with that in mind, I decided to ring in Women's History Month by taking a look back at some of the incredible, world-changing inventions that we owe to the fairer sex. Here are 12 of them.

1. The bulletproof Kevlar vest

Photo via iStock.

Yes, this otherworldly material that has saved the lives of countless law enforcement agents owes its invention to chemist Stephanie Kwolek, who developed it in 1964 while attempting to create a lighter, more durable material to use for car tires. Considered to be five times stronger than steel, Kevlar was patented in 1966 and is currently used in over 200 common applications.

2. The paper bag

GIF from "The Big Bang Theory."

It may be Papa who has a brand new bag according to James Brown, but in reality, Papa was only able to acquire said bag thanks to the efforts of Margaret Knight, who invented a machine capable of cutting, folding, and gluing the flat-bottomed paper bag in 1868 and later patented it in 1871. Those of us who bring lunches to work and/or suffer occasional panic attacks have never been the same.

3. The fire escape

Photo via iStock.

In an effort to combat the ever-growing number of fire-related deaths being caused by ever-growing apartment complexes, New York City passed a law in 1861 requiring all multi-floor buildings to be fitted with a pair of exterior stairs. Landlords resisted at first due to how much such a set-up cost, and it wasn't until 1887, when Anna Connelly patented the iron-railed fire bridge allowing residents trapped on higher floors to scale from one roof to another, that the future of building safety as we know it was forever changed.

4. The life raft

Photo by Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images.

Maria Beasley was something of engineering dynamo in her time, securing patents for everything from foot warmers to anti-derailment devices for trains between 1878 and 1898. While it was her barrel-making machine that earned her an unprecedented payday of over $20,000 a year, Bealey's life raft, which she patented in 1882, was perhaps her most significant contribution to human history. I mean, just think of all the brilliant, lifeboat-based comedy sketches we would have missed out on without it.

5. Signal flares for that life raft

Photo by Dmitry Kostyukov/AFP/Getty Images.

While not technically the pyro behind the flare's invention, it was the tireless efforts of Martha Coston that helped get the signal flare pushed into production. Working off a design found among her late husband's papers, Coston spent close to 10 years developing the system of flare signaling now recognized by the U.S. Navy, which became one of her first customers on the recommendation of former Capt. C.S. McCauley.

6. Computers, basically

GIF from "Napoleon Dynamite."

Not only were women programming computers long before "computer programmer" was even considered a job title, but it turns out that they've had a significant hand in damn-near every aspect of the computer since its birth.

Considered by many to be the world's first programmer, Ada Lovelace worked alongside "the father of the computer," Charles Babbage, to create the first computer algorithm in the early 1840s. Likewise, Navy admiral/computer scientist Dr. Grace Murray Hopper is credited with inventing one of the first high-level computer software programs (known later as COBOL) in 1959.

7. The medical syringe

Photo via iStock.

That thing that filled you with white-knuckled fear every time you had a doctor checkup as a kid? Thank Letitia Geer, who patented a modern one-handed syringe in 1899.

8. The Apgar score

Photo via iStock.

Better known as the most common method used to assess the health of a newborn baby, the Apgar score owes its name to Virginia Apgar, an obstetrical anesthesiologist who developed the test in 1952 while working at the Sloane Hospital for Women.

9. The solar-heated home

Photo via iStock.

A trailblazing biophysicist and inventor, Mária Telkes was one of the forerunners of the solar energy movement in 1940s — well, it was less of a "movement" and more of a "thing no one had even heard about." She created both the first thermoelectric (meaning "heat to electricity") power generator and refrigerator in 1947 and 1953, respectively, and in between designed the first 100% solar heating system for the Dover Sun House in Dover, Massachusetts, alongside architect Eleanor Raymond.

10. Stem cells

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

Obviously, no person could ever be so bold as to make the claim of having invented stem cells, but Ann Tsukamoto was one of two people to receive a patent for a process to isolate human stem cells in 1991, which is about as close as you could get.

11. Chocolate chip cookies

GIF via "Sesame Street."

With all due respect to computers and solar power, those inventions are significantly lower on the list of Life's Greatest Comforts than chocolate chip cookies are — and in fact, so is everything else. Ruth Graves Wakefield knew this, which is why she invented the first chocolate chip cookie in the late 1930s.

How this woman's face is not carved into Mount Rushmore remains one of the world's greatest injustices. I mean, I can't even think of an invention greater than chocolate chip cookies...

12. Beer (yes, beer)

GIF via "The World's End"

While it will never be known who was the actual inventor of beer, historian and founder of the School of Booze Jane Peyton is one of many who argues that is was women. While conducting extensive researching into the origins of beer for her book, "School of Booze," Peyton revealed to The Telegraph in 2010 that "nearly 7,000 years ago in Mesopotamia and Sumeria, so important were [women's] skills that they were the only ones allowed to brew the drink or run any taverns."

It's a theory that seems to align with how the intoxicating beverage has been perceived over the centuries. Many ancient societies typically depicted beer as being a gift from a goddess — in Sumerian culture, it was Ninkasi; for the Egyptians, it was Tenenet and Nephthys; and in Zulu mythology, it was Nokhubulwane. The list goes on.

It is said that "behind every great man is a great woman," but when looking over this list of inventions, it feels like it might be time to update that maxim, no?

Let's give it a couple of tries:

"Behind every great man ... is a shadow of where a woman maybe used to stand until she decided to do her own thing."

"Behind every great man ... is an even greater woman holding a beer and a cookie THAT SHE INVENTED."

I kind of like that last one.

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan
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Growing up in Indonesia, Farwiza Farhan always loved the ocean. It's why she decided to study marine biology. But the more she learned, the more she realized that it wasn't enough to work in the ocean. She needed to protect it.

"I see the ocean ecosystem collapsing due to overfishing and climate change," she says. "I felt powerless and didn't know what to do [so] I decided to pursue my master's in environmental management."

This choice led her to work in environmental protection, and it was fate that brought her back home to the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra, Indonesia — one of the last places on earth where species such as tigers, orangutans, elephants and Sumatran rhinoceros still live in the wild today. It's also home to over 300 species of birds, eight of which are endemic to the region.

"When I first flew over the Leuser Ecosystem, I saw an intact landscape, a contiguous block of lush, diverse vegetation stretched through hills and valleys. The Leuser is truly a majestic landscape — one of a kind."

She fell in love. "I had my first orangutan encounter in the Leuser Ecosystem," she remembers. "As the baby orangutan swung from the branches, seemingly playing and having fun, the mother was observing us. I was moved by the experience."

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

"Over the years," she continues, "the encounters with wildlife, with people, and with the ecosystem itself compounded. My curiosity and interest towards nature have turned into a deep desire to protect this biodiversity."

So, she began working for a government agency tasked to protect it. After the agency dismantled for political reasons in the country, Farhan decided to create the HAkA Foundation.

"The goals [of HAkA] are to protect, conserve and restore the Leuser Ecosystem while at the same time catalyzing and enabling just economic prosperity for the region," she says.

"Wild areas and wild places are rare these days," she continues. "We think gold and diamonds are rare and therefore valuable assets, but wild places and forests, like the Leuser Ecosystems, are the kind of natural assets that essentially provide us with life-sustaining services."

"The rivers that flow through the forest of the Leuser Ecosystem are not too dissimilar to the blood that flows through our veins. It might sound extreme, but tell me — can anyone live without water?"

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

So far, HAkA has done a lot of work to protect the region. The organization played a key role in strengthening laws that bring the palm oil companies that burn forests to justice. In fact, their involvement led to an unprecedented, first-of-its-kind court decision that fined one company close to $26 million.

In addition, HAkA helped thwart destructive infrastructure plans that would have damaged critical habitat for the Sumatran elephants and rhinos. They're working to prevent mining destruction by helping communities develop alternative livelihoods that don't damage the forests. They've also trained hundreds of police and government rangers to monitor deforestation, helping to establish the first women ranger teams in the region.

"We have supported multiple villages to create local regulation on river and land protection, effectively empowering communities to regain ownership over their environment."

She is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year. The donation she receives as a nominee is being awarded to the Ecosystem Impact Foundation. The small local foundation is working to protect some of the last remaining habitats of the critically endangered leatherback turtle that lives on the west coast of Sumatra.

"The funds will help the organization keep their ranger employed so they can continue protecting the islands, endangered birds and sea turtle habitats," she says.

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen. Do you know an inspiring woman like Farwiza? Nominate her today!

Jennifer Lawrence

After being a Hollywood staple, Jennifer Lawrence vanished from the public eye following the release of "X-Men Dark Phoenix" in 2019.

Sure, the pandemic had something to do with that … in addition to the usual way our society treats Hollywood "it" girls, once it grows accustomed to the flavor. But in a recent interview with Vanity Fair, Lawrence opens up about some other reasons she chose to step away for a time.

Lawrence went from being a highly sought-after Oscar-winning actress to starring in less-than-successful films like "Passengers," "Mother!" and "Red Sparrow." The films were not only poorly received among critics, but commercially as well.

"I was not pumping out the quality that I should have," she told VF. "I just think everybody had gotten sick of me. I'd gotten sick of me. It had just gotten to a point where I couldn't do anything right. If I walked a red carpet, it was, 'Why didn't she run?'"

So then, why do it? As any workaholic would know, it's about so much more than money.

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Courtesy of Ms. Lopez
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Marcella Lopez didn't always want to be a teacher — but once she became one, she found her passion. That's why she's stayed in the profession for 23 years, spending the past 16 at her current school in Los Angeles, where she mostly teaches children of color.

"I wanted purpose, to give back, to live a life of public service, to light the spark in others to think critically and to be kind human beings," she says. "More importantly, I wanted my students to see themselves when they saw me, to believe they could do it too."

Ms. Lopez didn't encounter a teacher of color until college. "That moment was life-changing for me," she recalls. "It was the first time I felt comfortable in my own skin as a student. Always remembering how I felt in that college class many years ago has kept me grounded year after year."

It's also guided her teaching. Ms. Lopez says she always selects authors and characters that represent her students and celebrate other ethnicities so students can relate to what they read while also learning about other cultures.

"I want them to see themselves in the books they read, respect those that may not look like them and realize they may have lots in common with [other cultures] they read about," she says.

She also wants her students to have a different experience in school than she did.

When Ms. Lopez was in first grade, she "was speaking in Spanish to a new student, showing her where the restroom was when a staff member overheard our conversation and directed me to not speak in Spanish," she recalls. "In 'this school,' we only speak English," she remembers them saying. "From that day forward, I was made to feel less-than and embarrassed to speak the language of my family, my ancestors; the language I learned to speak first."

Part of her job, she says, is to find new ways to promote acceptance and inclusion in her classroom.

"The worldwide movement around social justice following the death of George Floyd amplified my duty as a teacher to learn how to discuss racial equity in a way that made sense to my little learners," she says. "It ignited me to help them see themselves in a positive light, to make our classroom family feel more inclusive, and make our classroom a safe place to have authentic conversations."

One way she did that was by raising money through DonorsChoose to purchase books and other materials for her classroom that feature diverse perspectives.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

The Allstate Foundation recently partnered with DonorsChoose to create a Racial Justice and Representation category to encourage teachers like Ms. Lopez to create projects that address racial equity in the classroom. To launch the category, The Allstate Foundation matched all donations to these projects for a total of $1.5 million. Together, they hope to drive awareness and funding to projects that bring diversity, inclusion, and identity-affirming learning materials into classrooms across the country. You can see current projects seeking funding here.

When Ms. Lopez wanted to incorporate inclusive coloring books into her lesson plans, The Allstate Foundation fully funded her project so she was able to purchase them.

"I'm a lifelong learner, striving to be my best version of myself and always working to inspire my little learners to do the same," she says. Each week, Ms. Lopez and the students would focus on a page in the book and discuss its message. And she plans to do the same again this school year.

"DonorsChoose has been a gamechanger for my students. Without the support of all the donors that come together on this platform, we wouldn't have a sliver of what I've been able to provide for my students, especially during the pandemic," she says.

"My passion is to continue striving to be excellent, and to continue to find ways to use literature as an anchor, depicting images that reflect my students," she says.

To help teachers like Ms. Lopez drive this important mission forward, donate on DonorsChoose.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

This story was originally published on The Mighty and originally appeared here on 07.21.17


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