Behind Every Great Man is a Great Woman

Updated: May 14, 2019

Written By: Madeleine Salem

Neil Armstrong and the first moon landing. Watson and Crick and the double-helix DNA model. Charles Babbage and computer programming.

You're probably very familiar with these pioneering scientific breakthroughs and the men they are accredited to. History has immortalized these men as geniuses and scientific revolutionaries, recognizing them as the sole figureheads of their particular discoveries, but it has also erased the names of the women who made those discoveries possible. This is due, in part, to a phenomenon known as the Matilda Effect.

Luckily, the accomplishments and contributions of these remarkable women are finally being brought to light, and the women are finally receiving the recognition they deserve. The movie Hidden Figures (2016) features Katherine Johnson, the woman who performed the calculations mapping the path to the moon; Dorothy Vaughan, whose computer programming expertise helped NASA for many years; and Mary Jackson, who made history as NASA's first female, black engineer, as its main protagonists. Students all over the country learn as early as high school about Rosalind Franklin and her x-ray crystallography work that revealed the double-helix structure of DNA to Nobel Prize winners Watson and Crick in their biology books. Ada Lovelace's creation, the very first computer programming algorithm, is what allowed Charles Babbage's analytical engine to function. Her work is finally being acknowledged widely. While there has been substantial progress in recognizing women in STEM throughout the centuries, there are so many others whose names and accomplishments have been lost between the pages of our history books. It's time we stop adhering to the age-old saying that "behind every great mean is an even greater woman." It's time we cast a spotlight on the ladies who were cast into the shadows of their male colleagues - not just as contributors to major STEM breakthroughs, but as geniuses and scientific revolutionaries in their own right.

Lise Meitner