Education

Katherine Johnson and 9 other women written out of the history books

U.S. President Barack Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to NASA mathematician Katherine G. Johnson during an event in the East Room of the White House in Washington November 24, 2015. Johnson is a pioneer in American space history. REUTERS/Carlos Barria - GF20000072843

2016 film 'Hidden Figures' highlighted pioneering women whose work had been forgotten, uncredited or stolen. Image: REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Sonia Elks
Journalist, Reuters
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Everyone who contributed to Neil Armstrong's milestone of becoming the first man to walk on the moon were celebrated during the historic event's 50th anniversary, including women who for many years were left in the shadows.

The 2016 Oscar-nominated film "Hidden Figures" highlighted the role of black, female NASA mathematicians in the U.S. space race - a few of the pioneering women whose work had been forgotten, uncredited, or stolen by others.

Here are 10 women who were written out of history books:

1. NASA's Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson were vital to the early U.S. space programme - including calculating trajectories for the Apollo 11 mission. But for decades their work was forgotten.

NASA research mathematician Katherine Johnson is photographed at her desk at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, U.S., in this image from 1966. NASA/Handout via REUTERS  ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. - RC1A0538BB40
Image: REUTERS

2. Physicist Lise Meitner helped to discover and explain nuclear fission, but her role was unacknowledged by her friend and collaborator Otto Hahn, who won the 1944 Nobel Prize for the breakthrough.

3. Scientist Rosalind Franklin was also denied a Nobel Prize. She played a pivotal role in the discovery of DNA's structure, but her contribution was overlooked while her colleagues Francis Crick, James Watson and Maurice Wilkins shared a 1962 Nobel for the discovery.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

4. Architect Denise Scott Brown saw her husband Robert Venturi handed the prestigious 1991 Pritzker Architecture Prize, largely based on work they had done together. The prize committee in 2013 rejected a petition to retrospectively make it a joint award.

5. Gerda Taro was a pioneering female war photographer who died on the frontlines of the Spanish civil war in 1937, but her fame is eclipsed by her partner Robert Capa and on some occasions her photographs were credited to him.

6. Cells taken from U.S. cancer patient Henrietta Lacks helped the development of chemotherapy and other medical research. But she was not asked for permission and her story only became widely known through a 2010 book.

7. Artist Margaret Keane is known for her paintings of big-eyed children, but for years her husband Walter claimed the credit for her work. After their divorce, she took him to court and won recognition as the true artist.

8. Elizabeth Magie is often hailed as the uncredited inventor of Monopoly. Charles Darrow based the board game on Magie's Landlord's Game and then sold it as his own creation.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

9. Composer Fanny Mendelssohn is far less well known than her brother Felix. She struggled to establish herself as a composer due to gendered social expectations in 19th century Germany, and a number of her works were published under her brother's name.

10. U.S. computer scientist Katie Bouman played a leading role in capturing the ever photograph of a black hole in 2019 - but faced persistent critics on social media who tried to downplay the significance of her work.

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