Women have excelled in science and technology for the past 20 decades. Some are responsible for breakthrough inventions or discoveries that have revolutionized the world of technology as we know it. Thus, this year’s theme for National Women’s History Month, Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics is the reason for our first segment in a series recognizing the amazing African American women from way back then and today. It’s unfortunate that many of these women have been forgotten or overlooked as their inputs in technology continue to advance our society.
A Washington D.C. school teacher and the second black woman to receive a patent in 1888, long before technology was as vital as it is now, Benjamin received a patent for an invention she called a Gong and Signal Chair for Hotels. Her invention allowed hotel customers to summon a waiter from the comfort of their chair. A button on the chair would buzz the waiters’ station and a light on the chair would let the wait staff know who needed service. Sound familiar? Maybe something now used on airplanes?
Ever bought a storage or folding bed, or certainly you know someone that has? You might’ve thought this was a fairly new idea, but contrary to popular belief, this was the first patent given to an African American woman. Sarah Goode was the first to receive a U.S. patent on July 14, 1885 for a cabinet bed. She was the owner of a Chicago furniture store and birthed an idea that continued to grow decades after the issuance of her patent.
Kenyan blogger and indefatigable open-government activist, Ory Okolloh is a co-founder of Ushahidi, a pioneering, free open-source platform for crowd sourcing crisis information. She is now Google’s policy manager for Africa and serves as a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader. Prior to co-founding Ushahidi, Okolloh, 34, founded Mzalendo, a website that helps Kenya’s electorate keep track of the activities of their representatives in parliament. She is known as one of Africa’s Most Successful Women by Forbes.
Burns was named head of Xerox, the $15 billion computer and office equipment company, in 2007 after beginning as an intern in 1980. She earned her title and was a natural choice for the position after leading key business units and helping her predecessor Ann Mulcahy remake the company. Burns, who earned a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Polytechnic Institute of New York and a master’s in engineering from Columbia, was appointed by President Obama to vice chair of his Export Council 30 years after beginning her career.
Sandra K. Johnson
A member of the IBM Academy of Technology, the top 1 percent of IBM’s 250,000 technical employees, she has more than 40 patents and is a specialist in software and hardware research performance optimization. The Southern University-trained electrical engineer also has a master’s from Stanford University and a Ph.D. from Rice University, both in electrical engineering.
Snyder picked up cryptography at a very young age, leading her to cybersecurity. Prior to working for Apple Inc., she headed security for the Mozilla Corp., which created the Firefox browser, and spent three years at Microsoft working on Windows XP and servers. She also maintains contacts with good and bad hackers. We personally owe her a lot of thanks from our continued use with the products she has worked on!
While the number of women in technology and other areas of science are growing, the number is still smaller than one might think. It is obvious, however, that the doors for African American women in the areas of science and technology are expanding beyond just simple patents. These inspiring, motivated, and intelligent women definitely deserve all the praise and recognition that this month holds for them as they continue to build and better multi-million and multi-billion dollar companies!