Throughout the month of March, Women’s History Month recognizes and honors the achievements of women in the United States.
What began as a local Women’s History Week celebration in 1978 quickly transformed into a monthlong observance over the following decade. In Sonoma County, California, an education task force initiated an effort to celebrate women’s history with a week of activities encouraging community participation. The group organized an essay contest, classroom presentations and even a parade at the end of the week.
The events were met with positive response, and the following years, more organizers across the country introduced similar celebrations to their communities. The movement gained momentum, and in 1980 President Jimmy Carter issued a presidential proclamation declaring the week of March 8 as National Women’s History Week. By 1987, Congress officially designated the month of March as Women’s History Month after being petitioned by the National Women’s History Project.
Honoring Leaders in Innovation
With the centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment taking place in 2020, there’s no better time to reflect on triumphs of women throughout history. The National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) is honored to have inducted remarkable inventors whose work has contributed to a better world. A display outside the NIHF Museum will feature the innovative journeys of several women who have left their mark.
Sponsored by the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), this exhibit recognizes women who have made an impact in the health care field and those who are shaping its future. Their innovation and leadership continue to inspire advances in the medical industry.
The featured innovators include:
Gertrude Belle Elion
1991 NIHF Inductee
NIHF Inductee Gertrude Belle Elion invented leukemia-fighting drugs including 6-mercaptopurine, as well as Imuran, which supports kidney transplants from unrelated donors. After being hired by Burroughs-Wellcome in 1944, she began work on antagonists of nucleic acid building blocks, leading to the synthesis of 6-mercaptopurine. She was named head of the Department of Experimental Therapy at Burroughs-Wellcome in 1967, and in 1988, Elion shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine with George Hitchings and Sir James Black.
Glucose Detection for Diabetes
2000 NIHF Inductee
A pioneer in diagnostic chemistry, NIHF Inductee Helen Free worked alongside her colleague and husband NIHF Inductee Alfred Free to introduce dip-and-read tests such as Clinistix®, which aids diabetes monitoring by detecting glucose. After earning her bachelor's degree in chemistry in 1944, she began working at Miles Laboratories. Among her many accomplishments at Miles, she was the first woman scientist to reach an executive level. Free has served as the president of both the American Association for Clinical Chemistry and the American Chemical Society, and she has been an advocate for science education programs around the world.
Medical Devices for Low-Resource Settings
2019 NIHF Inductee
NIHF Inductee Rebecca Richards-Kortum has improved access to quality health care by developing accessible medical technologies for communities that lack standard medical equipment. Since founding the Rice 360° Institute for Global Health with colleague Maria Oden, Richards-Kortum has worked with students to develop low-cost, low-power devices to save newborns. Her team’s successes include the Pumani CPAP system for newborns with breathing problems; BiliSpec, a tool that measures bilirubin to detect jaundice; and DoseRight, for accurate dosing of children’s liquid medication.
Nanocomposite Dental Materials
2018 NIHF Inductee
As a chemist at 3M Oral Care in the late 1990s, NIHF Inductee Sumita Mitra invented the first dental filling material to include nanoparticles. Filtek™ Supreme Universal Restorative demonstrated superior strength when compared to existing dental composites, mimicked the beauty of natural teeth and was versatile enough to restore teeth in any area of the mouth. With 100 U.S. patents, Mitra’s inventions have led to a number of breakthrough dental technologies including nanocomposites, resin-modified glass ionomers and dental adhesives.
Directed Evolution of Enzymes
2014 NIHF Inductee
SWE Achievement Award Recipient
NIHF Inductee Frances Arnold pioneered the enzyme evolution method known as “directed evolution,” a foundational technology that applies biotechnology in academic and industrial laboratories to optimize enzymes, antibodies and other proteins. Arnold’s work has inspired the development of evolution-based approaches to biomolecular engineering and has reached a variety of industries, including medicine, chemicals, consumer products and environmental biotechnology.
Cindy R. Kent
Medical Business Community Leader
SWE Suzanne Jenniches Upward Mobility Award Recipient
As the former vice president of strategy, business development and U.S. medical accounts for 3M’s Healthcare Business Group, Cindy R. Kent has demonstrated exceptional vision and leadership. Throughout her career, Kent has managed leadership teams and developed the execution of global strategic plans for medical therapies. She has also led several women’s network leadership committees, including the Medtronic Women’s Network (MWN), and has been a member of the Women Business Leaders of the U.S. Health Care Industry Foundation™.
Leader and STEM Advocate
SWE Spark Award Recipient
As an engineering director for Medtronic, Heather Savage-Erickson has been a leader in medical device product development. She has spent her career developing, manufacturing and marketing medical devices, as well as serving as an adviser to SWEnet—an employee resource group at Medtronic that focuses on outreach, professional development and networking for women engineers. Savage-Erickson has played a pivotal role in doubling Medtronic’s hiring of women in technical positions in less than 10 years. Among her mentees, 27 have gone on to serve in board leadership positions.
Contributor to Life-Changing Medical Devices
SWE Emerging Leader
Lynn Davenport is an engineering manager at Medtronic who has guided programs for creating new technologies to treat atrial fibrillation through minimally invasive ablation techniques. Her career has grown from a research scientist studying new algorithms for cardiac resynchronization devices to becoming a lead systems engineer and manager in a developing technology space. Davenport joined SWE in 1999 and has held numerous leadership positions within the Minnesota Section.
Visit the Museum
Visitors can view the Women’s History Month display at the NIHF Museum throughout the month of March.
Can’t make it to the museum in person? Visit us virtually through Google Arts & Culture or our social media platforms.