Five Major Inventions by Women of the Past

Life Raft.jpg

Nov 05, 2014 by British Blog

Today, women expect - and to an increasingly extent receive - a respected place in society. Women now have leading roles in politics, science, the arts and technology, and this is as it should be.

However, it was not always that way: in the UK, for example, until the passing of the Married Women's Property Act of 1882, women actually lost their legal identity on marriage and were not allowed to own any property - including intellectual property such as copyright - in their own name, unless their husband gave his permission. Women were not allowed to graduate (i.e. to be granted a degree) from Oxford University until 1920, although they were allowed to attend lectures before that. Women were not made full members of Cambridge University until 1948.

Of course, similar restrictions existed in other countries. However, some very notable women were undeterred and went on to invent items that have changed our lives forever. Here are just a few.


Computer programming

Ada Lovelace, born Augusta Ada Byron in 1815, was the daughter of the poet Lord Byron and a gifted mathematician. Ada worked closely with Charles Babbage on his 'analytical engine', first presented in 1837, which was the precursor of the modern computer.

Lovelace's notes concerning the project contain what many define as the first computer program, i.e. an algorithm for use by a machine. Lovelace's notes also suggest that she had foreseen potential for the computer far beyond that envisaged by Babbage himself, and had begun to consider the relationship between humanity and technology - a crucial issue for society today.


Frequency hopping

Hedy Lamarr, the Austrian-born actress once dubbed the most beautiful woman in Hollywood, desperately wanted to help the allied forces defeat Hitler's Germany. She worked with composer George Antheil to build a machine that distributed torpedo guidance signals across several frequencies, which meant that enemy interceptors could not jam them. The pair got a patent for the device in 1941.

Although ignored at first, the invention was used successfully during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the concept is now used to protect the privacy of users of mobile phones.



Many members of the world's military and police, and possibly a few American football players, owe their lives to Kevlar. Lightweight, but five times stronger than steel and able to stop a bullet in its tracks, this material was discovered by Stephanie Kwolek, who patented it in 1966.


Life rafts

Life rafts were invented by Maria Beasley, who registered 15 different patents between 1878 and 1898 and became, unlike many of her female contemporaries, very rich as a result of her ingenuity. Beasley's other inventions included a foot warmer and a device to stop trains derailing.


Disposable nappies

Perhaps one of the more predictable female inventions, disposable nappies were originally derided by shops who thought there was no demand for them - now most British babies wear them. Marion Donovan invented a partially disposable nappy in 1951, selling the patent for $1 million several years later. Shortly thereafter she invented the entirely disposable nappy, and Pampers have been sold since 1961.