The Women Scientists Who Were Stars Before Their Time

Ignoring the groundbreaking contributions of women in science doesn't just rob them of deserved recognition; it sets a dangerous precedent for future generations. When young girls don't see women celebrated in STEM fields, it sends a harmful message.

The Women Scientists Who Were Stars Before Their Time
Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson: The brilliant minds behind NASA's historic milestones, finally stepping out of the shadows. Credit: Bluegrass Institute

In the captivating 2016 film, Hidden Talents, directed by Theodore Melfi, we are swept off our feet by the untold story of three extraordinary African-American women: Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson. Not mere fictional characters, these women were the unsung mathematical geniuses behind some of NASA's most memorable milestones.

Through their precise calculations, astronaut John Glenn made his historic orbit around Earth. Yet for many years, their tale lived in the shadowy corners of history, obscured by a veil of ignorance and systemic prejudice. What's astonishing isn't their genius or achievements; it's the glaring fact that so many of us knew nothing of them.

The stories of Johnson, Vaughan, and Jackson aren't unique but a representation of a recurring tragedy in the annals of history: the selective forgetfulness that often pushes women, especially those from marginalized communities, into obscurity. These are women who have made groundbreaking contributions to science and technology, only for their legacies to be as hidden as the dark side of the Moon.

History books and scientific journals are brimming with the tales of male scientists whose contributions have shaped our understanding of the world—figures like Einstein, Tesla, and Newton. These men deserve their places in history, of course, but what about the women who stood alongside them, frequently working in the shadows? Women scientists have frequently been relegated to footnotes or acknowledgments, their roles downplayed or credited to male advisors or collaborators. Take Rosalind Franklin, whose work was crucial in the discovery of the DNA double helix, yet her male colleagues James Watson and Francis Crick received the Nobel Prize. Or Chien-Shiung Wu, the Chinese American physicist whose experiments disproved the law of conservation of parity but saw her male colleagues awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1957.

A Global Issue

This pattern isn't confined to the United States or even the western world. Across the globe, countless women have made significant strides in science, engineering, and technology. They’ve been integral in the advancement of medicine, contributed to our understanding of space and physics, and been at the forefront of environmental sciences. Yet, despite their monumental contributions, many of these women remain nameless in the public consciousness, their stories untold and their achievements uncelebrated.

Ignoring these accomplishments doesn't just rob these women of the recognition they deserve; it also sets a dangerous precedent for future generations. When young girls don't see women being celebrated in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), it sends a harmful message: these fields are not for them. The absence of women role models in science can act as a psychological barrier, discouraging young women from aspiring to become the next pioneers in these crucial disciplines.

The situation is grim, but it's far from hopeless. Films like Hidden Talents, and initiatives that aim to recognize and promote women scientists, are crucial steps toward changing this narrative. Organizations like the Association for Women in Science and the global campaign “For Women in Science” are pushing to make these hidden figures more visible. Educational programs aimed at encouraging girls to take up STEM subjects, grants, and scholarships targeted at young women, and mentorship programs are all powerful tools in dismantling the gender barriers in science.

As we continue to make strides in science and technology, it's crucial that we also strive to bring these 'hidden talents' into the spotlight. Not merely to correct a historical wrong, but to inspire a new generation of young women who might be holding on to their curiosity and talent, unaware that they too can change the world. In doing so, we don't just pay homage to the overlooked women of yesteryears, but lay a foundation for a future where every scientist, regardless of gender, can stand in the limelight they so richly deserve.

In-Text Citation: Villegas, Gabriela Frías. ‘Científicas En El Lado Oscuro de La Luna | Gabriela Frías Villegas’. Revista de La Universidad de México, Accessed 11 Sept. 2023.