Pioneers of Progress: Women in STEM Throughout History

by Ryan Harris

Throughout history, women have made remarkable contributions to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). 

As we observed Women’s History Month, it is essential to recognize and honor the sacrifices, determination, and brilliance of these women. Their stories serve as a powerful reminder that with perseverance and passion, anything is possible.

The Notable Women Trailblazers of STEM

Despite facing numerous challenges and biases, these trailblazers have pushed boundaries, challenged long-held beliefs, and paved the way for future generations. Their pioneering work has not only advanced our understanding of the world but has also inspired others to pursue their passions and break through barriers.

Marie Curie (1867-1934)

Marie Curie, born in Poland in 1867, moved to Paris for her education and became a pioneering physicist and chemist. She discovered radioactivity and the elements polonium and radium with her husband, Pierre Curie. 

Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and remains the only person awarded Nobel Prizes in two different sciences—Physics and Chemistry. Her work led to the development of X-ray machines and advanced medical research. 

Despite facing gender barriers, she established major research institutes. Curie’s legacy inspires women in STEM, symbolizing perseverance and the pursuit of knowledge.

Ada Lovelace (1815-1852)

Ada Lovelace, born in 1815 in London, is celebrated as one of the world’s first computer programmers. She was the daughter of the poet Lord Byron and mathematician Annabella Milbanke. Lovelace was introduced to Charles Babbage, who designed the early mechanical general-purpose computer called the Analytical Engine. 

Lovelace saw beyond its immediate capabilities, predicting its potential to go beyond mere calculation to perform any form of computation. She published notes on the engine that included what is considered the first algorithm intended to be processed by a machine. Despite her early death in 1852, Lovelace’s visionary work laid the groundwork for modern computing. You also might have noticed that the new NVIDIA chipset architecture bears her name, which is only fitting. 

Florence Nightingale (1820-1910)

Florence was a British nurse known as the founder of modern nursing. She gained fame during the Crimean War (1853-1856) for her work in improving sanitary conditions in military hospitals, significantly reducing death rates. 

Nightingale established the first scientifically based nursing school, the Nightingale School of Nursing, at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London in 1860. Together with other pioneers like Clara Barton, she advocated for the professionalization of nursing and introduced rigorous training and standards. 

Her contributions revolutionized healthcare, emphasizing hygiene and care standards, and her legacy lives on in the nursing profession today. Nightingale’s work underscores the critical role of nursing in healthcare and patient recovery.

Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958)

Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958) was a British scientist known for her work on the X-ray diffraction images of DNA, which led to the discovery of the DNA double helix structure. Her photograph, known as Photo 51, played a crucial role in understanding the physical structure of DNA. 

Despite her significant contributions, Franklin’s work was not fully recognized during her lifetime, and she did not receive the Nobel Prize that was later awarded to Watson, Crick, and Wilkins for the discovery of the DNA structure

Franklin’s research also covered the structure of viruses and coal, showcasing her wide-ranging impact on science. Her legacy continues to inspire discussions on gender equity in science.

Elizabeth Blackburn

Elizabeth Blackburn, born in 1948, is a molecular biologist who made a groundbreaking discovery in the field of genetics. Together with Carol W. Greider and Jack W. Szostak, she discovered telomerase, an enzyme that plays a key role in aging and cancer by maintaining the ends of chromosomes, known as telomeres. 

This discovery, crucial for understanding the fundamental mechanisms of cell aging and disease, earned them the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2009. Blackburn’s work has opened new avenues in biomedical research, especially in understanding aging and developing potential treatments for cancer

Her contributions highlight the importance of basic scientific research in addressing complex health issues.

Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson (1907-1964) was an American marine biologist, author, and conservationist whose work revolutionized the environmental movement. Her most famous book, “Silent Spring” (1962), highlighted the dangers of pesticides, particularly DDT to wildlife, the environment, and human health. 

Carson’s meticulous research and compelling writing spurred widespread public attention regarding bees and other useful pollinators, as well as health concerns, and led to changes in U.S. policies on pesticide use. Despite facing criticism from chemical companies and some in the scientific community, Carson’s advocacy was instrumental in the eventual ban of DDT in the United States. Her legacy endures in the ongoing efforts to protect the natural world.

Marissa Mayer

Marissa Mayer, born on May 30, 1975, is a prominent figure in the tech industry, best known for her role at Google and as the former CEO of Yahoo. Joining Google in 1999 as their first female engineer, Mayer contributed significantly to the development of key products like Google Search, Maps, and Gmail. 

In 2012, she became the CEO of Yahoo, where she worked on revitalizing the company’s platforms until its sale to Verizon in 2017. Mayer’s leadership at Yahoo focused on product development and acquisitions to boost its relevance in the competitive tech landscape. Her career is marked by her efforts to innovate and drive progress within major tech companies.

Overcoming Obstacles

Throughout history, women in STEM fields have faced significant obstacles and challenges due to societal norms, gender bias, and systemic barriers. Despite these hurdles, the pioneering women persevered and made remarkable contributions to their respective fields.

One of the biggest obstacles women in STEM have faced is the lack of representation and role models. For many years, STEM disciplines were dominated by men, and women were often discouraged from pursuing careers in these areas. This lack of visible female scientists, engineers, and mathematicians made it difficult for young girls to envision themselves in these roles.

Thanks to their hard work, women can now build careers anywhere — from creating pentesting tools for cybersecurity firms to groundbreaking AI models. Mira Murati, a renowned Albanian engineer is the CTO of OpenAI, while Sheryl Sandberg was the COO of Meta for a long while. However, the battles have to be fought in the trenches, at entry-level and mid-level positions. 

Another challenge women in STEM have confronted is gender discrimination and stereotyping. Many women have faced skepticism, dismissal, and even outright opposition from their male counterparts and colleagues. They have had to work twice as hard to prove their competence and earn the respect and recognition they deserve. The situation is far from ideal now, but we’re making progress one step at a time. 

Inspiring the Next Generation

Despite these obstacles, the women we’ve highlighted in this article, and countless others have paved the way for future generations. Their achievements and determination have inspired countless girls and young women to pursue their interests and passions in STEM fields.

Ensuring representation and providing role models is crucial for encouraging the next generation of girls and young women to explore STEM subjects. Seeing successful women in these fields helps to break down stereotypes and demonstrates that careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are viable and rewarding options for them.

Mentorship programs are key—even something as simple as teaching young girls how to create a simple PDF to Word converter can set the next potential trailblazer on the path toward STEM. Outreach initiatives and educational resources that highlight the accomplishments of women in STEM can also play a vital role in inspiring and supporting young girls. By providing guidance, encouragement, and hands-on learning opportunities, these programs can help cultivate a passion for STEM subjects and build confidence in young women’s abilities.

Systemic barriers

It’s also important to address the systemic barriers and biases that still exist in STEM fields. However, female students should, first and foremost, learn how to do what they like, and not what society wants them to do. Research indicates that parents’ and teachers’ expectations are the main reasons for ‘pushing’ women into certain subjects. Hence, it’s paramount that girls are aware of their own affinities, first and foremost. 

Next, you ought to break down the barrier of complexity—let them know that learning isn’t a boogeyman and that you can start slow. Instead of burdening them with daunting tasks, start with fun coding exercises and then build a basic app. 

They can then create a QR code for signing up to their app, a basic website, and see which aspect of comp-sci interests them. The same goes for other aspects of STEM.

Abd last but not least, promoting diversity, inclusion, and equal opportunities within educational institutions, workplaces, and professional organizations is crucial for creating an environment where women can thrive and contribute to their full potential.

Inspiring young girls and fostering their interests in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics will not only benefit them individually but will also drive innovation, progress, and advancement in these crucial disciplines.


Women have made invaluable contributions to STEM fields throughout history, often overcoming significant obstacles and discrimination along the way. While progress has been made in recent decades, there is still work to be done to ensure equal opportunities and representation for women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Recognizing and celebrating the pioneering achievements of women in STEM is important not only to honor their remarkable accomplishments but also to inspire and encourage the next generation of girls and young women.

Ryan Harris

Ryan Harris