Women of MIT

Women of MIT
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Dr. Mildred Dresselhaus, the “Queen of Carbon” received many awards during her lifetime. I am pleased to recall the first woman to become a full tenured professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the first female winner of the National Medal of Science in Engineering. Millie Dresselhaus, who received many prestigious awards, worked hard to encourage young women to pursue engineering and science careers. Her National Medal of Science citation reads: “For her studies of metals and semimetals, and for her service to the Nation in establishing a prominent place for women in physics and engineering.” In her memory, I profile women affiliated with MIT in this column. Match the woman with her accomplishment:

____ 1. The first woman to graduate with a degree in architecture from MIT.

____ 2. A long-time faculty member at MIT who received all three of her engineering degrees there.

____ 3. The first woman to graduate from MIT.

____ 4. An atmospheric scientist who shared the Nobel Peace Prize; currently on the faculty at MIT.

____ 5. The first African-American woman to receive a Ph.D. from MIT.

A. Ellen Henrietta Swallow Richards

B. Sophia Hayden

C. Shirley Ann Jackson

D. Sheila Widnall

E. Susan Solomon

The first woman to graduate from MIT, Ellen Henrietta Swallow Richards was admitted as the “Swallow Experiment” and not required to pay tuition. As she later found out, much to her chagrin, this situation was so that the trustees, president, faculty and students could deny that a woman was enrolled if they were asked. Receiving her degree in 1873, Richards was a true renaissance woman leaving a legacy across many fields. Among her many accomplishments, she established and ran the Women’s Lab at MIT until women were admitted into the regular curriculum. Acknowledged as the mother of ecology, the founder of the field of home economics and one of the founders of what is today the American Association of University Women, Richards has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

The first female graduate of the architecture program at MIT, Sophia Hayden (Bennett) received her first (and last) commission for the Women’s Building at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. She won in a competition that was open to women architects only and entered her design at the urging of a friend. Hayden had graduated from MIT in 1890, but had been unable to find employment as an architect due to her gender and began teaching at a drawing high school in Boston instead. Her building, which had received both positive and negative reviews, was torn down after the Exposition was over. Hayden retired from the field of architecture.

The first African-American woman to receive a Ph.D. in any field from MIT, Shirley Ann Jackson is a theoretical physicist and the 18th president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the first African-American woman to lead a top-ranked research university. Jackson opted to remain at MIT after receiving her B.S. in order to break down additional barriers for people of color. A trailblazer all of her life, she served as the first female and first African-American Chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (1995-1999), appointed by President Bill Clinton. Earlier in her career, she worked at AT&T Bell Laboratories and Rutgers University. Among her numerous honors including election to the National Academy of Engineering, Jackson has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

The first female Secretary of the Air Force and the first woman to lead an entire military branch in the Department of Defense, aeronautical engineer Sheila Widnall was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993. Widnall received all three of her degrees from MIT and was named an Institute Professor in 1998. Her research has focused on fluid dynamics, especially in the areas of aircraft turbulence and spiraling airflows. In addition to her election to the National Academy of Engineering and numerous other awards, Widnall has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

An atmospheric scientist who shared in the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, Susan Solomon is recognized for pioneering the explanation for the ozone hole over Antarctica and is currently a member of the faculty at MIT. A member of the National Academy of Engineering, Solomon received the National Medal of Science with a citation that reads: “For key scientific insights in explaining the cause of the Antarctic Ozone Hole and for advancing the understanding of the global ozone layer; for changing the direction of ozone research through her findings; and for exemplary service to worldwide public policy decisions and the American public.” Named by Time magazine as one of the most influential people in the world in 2008, Solomon has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Learn about more she-roes and celebrate amazing women. These women with ties to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are among the more than 850 women profiled in the book Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America. I am proud to tell women’s stories and to write them back into history.

(Answers 1-B, 2-D, 3-A, 4-E, 5-C)

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