Since 1987, the month of March has been designated as Women’s History Month to “celebrate the contributions women have made to the United States and recognize the specific achievements women have made over the course of American history in a variety of fields.” Here at the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF), we take great pride in sharing the stories of women who have advanced STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields, not just in March, but all year-round.
Among the many women STEM leaders we believe should be household names is NIHF Inductee Harriet Williams Russell Strong.
A Pioneer in Water Technology
In 1883, following the death of her husband, Harriet Strong become the sole owner of her family’s 220-acre ranch, Rancho del Fuerte, or “ranch of the strong.” She had four daughters, all under the age of 15 at the time, and needed to make agriculture at her ranch a success. Strong dedicated herself to this task, and in the process, she made history.
Strong planted walnuts, a crop with considerable potential for profit, across 150 acres of Rancho del Fuerte. She learned that walnuts require a significant amount of time to mature, so she planted pampas grass between the rows of walnut trees, which allowed her to secure an income in the meantime.
Walnuts require plenty of water, so Strong invented a sophisticated irrigation and water control system that would take advantage of water from frequent flash floods in the Los Angeles basin. This irrigation system used a series of ascending dams to store water, with each dam reinforcing one dam above it.
Strong earned a total of five patents on inventions for dam and reservoir construction and irrigation systems, the first of which was granted in 1887. Thanks to her innovations in water conservation, walnut crops began to thrive in Southern California, and within just five years, Strong’s walnut farm became the largest in the United States.
An Advocate for Women’s Rights
Not only did Strong’s achievements establish her as an authority on water conservation and irrigation, but her dedication to social activism also made her an important figure in the movement for women’s rights. As a member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, Strong spoke at events alongside Susan B. Anthony, and in 1895, Strong hosted Anthony on a visit to her flourishing ranch.
Even before women secured the right to vote, Strong was an influential advocate for the Los Angeles Flood Control Act of 1915 and became a member of the flood control board. She also became the first woman delegate at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce convention in 1918.
Following Strong’s death in 1926, two federal projects based on her pioneering work came to be: the Hoover Dam and the All-American Canal, which is now the world’s largest irrigation canal.
For her contributions not only to American innovation but to equity in our society, Strong was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame as well as NIHF.
Visit our blog to read more about our world-changing Inductees and about the importance of promoting greater inclusivity and diverse perspectives in STEM fields.