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“If you had to name an inventor, would it be a woman?” This is the challenge question that visitors to the in-person and online photographic display, “Picturing Women Inventors” face. On-site at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, the larger-than-life images highlight contemporary and historic women and their accomplishments.
Produced by the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, “Picturing Women Inventors” shares the distinctive motivations, challenges and accomplishments of exceptional 20th- and 21st-century inventive woman of personally and professional diverse backgrounds. Presented in bold wall murals, with text labels in Spanish and English, the exhibition illustrates the creativity of women inventors in American history while inspiring young people, especially girls, to see themselves as future inventors.
“Picturing Women Inventors” sheds light on the timely topic of the lack of diversity on the nation’s creative output. In 2019, both houses of Congress held hearings on what the lawmakers called the “lost Einsteins,” looking at the gaps in diversity in science, engineering and invention. Other academic research has confirmed the importance of role models in inspiring invention among girls, while pointing that, at current rates, it will take more than a century to reach gender parity between men and women inventors. “Picturing Women Inventors” offers a small step toward narrowing that gap.
“Women historically have not had equal opportunities to be inventors,” said Arthur Daemmrich, director of the Lemelson Center. “‘Picturing Women Inventors’ is part of the center’s broader efforts to uncover, document and share the stories of ‘hidden figures’ in the history of invention.”
The non-chronological flow of the exhibition invites visitors to dip into the stories of most interest to them as they pass though the hallway. By juxtaposing the historical and contemporary accomplishments of women in STEM and other inventive fields, the exhibition is meant to inspire curiosity in all visitors about inventors who affect their everyday life. Women inventors have always been, and continue to be, a vibrant part of the invention landscape. “Picturing Women Inventors” especially resonates with visitors who identify as women and girls, who will recognize themselves in the stories of these inventive women.
Among the stories featured in the display at the National Museum of American History are:
- Patricia Bath, eye surgeon and professor of ophthalmology, inventor of the Laserphaco Probe for the treatment of cataracts
- Alexis Lewis, teenage inventor, patent holder of the wheeled rescue travois
- Ellen Ochoa, the first Latina in space, and inventor of devices that help scientists analyze images from space
For those who cannot visit “Picturing Women Inventors” in person, an online version is also available.
“Picturing Women Inventors” is organized by the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, in collaboration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and is sponsored by Lyda Hill Philanthropies IF/THEN Initiative and Ericsson.
In collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, “Picturing Women Inventors” is also available as a series of eight posters that explores the inventions of 19 highly accomplished American women. Astronauts, computer pioneers and businesswomen join athletes, engineers and teenagers in this remarkable group of inventors. Ideal for classrooms or other learning environments, the poster exhibition also comes with curriculum material developed by Smithsonian educators at the Lemelson Center. The poster exhibition includes most of the stories featured in the museum installation, along with additional historic and contemporary women inventors. To order, visit https://s.si.edu/3dupTWc.
About the Lemelson Center
Since 1995 the Lemelson Center continues to lead the study of invention and innovation at the Smithsonian. The center’s activities advance scholarship on the history of invention, share stories about inventors and their work and nurture creativity in young people. The center is supported by The Lemelson Foundation and located in the National Museum of American History. For more information, visit invention.si.edu.
About the National Museum of American History
Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History seeks to empower people to create a more just and compassionate future by examining, preserving and sharing the complexity of our past. The museum, located on Constitution Avenue N.W., between 12th and 14th streets, is open Friday through Tuesday between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Admission is free, but reserved time-entry passes are required. To make reservations, visit si.edu/visit or http://americanhistory.si.edu. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.
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