Can’t Hold Us Down: Women Who Have Shaped the Tech World

Too often, history focuses on the contributions of men and not women, especially when their accomplishments are made in a traditionally male-dominated field. The tech workforce is a field in which women have made strides and significant contributions, but they rarely get the recognition they deserve. To acknowledge some of the groundbreaking work done by women in tech, I put together the following list. While certainly not exhaustive, this is a must-read introduction—because women and their achievements shouldn’t be overlooked.

  1. Ada Lovelace
Ada Lovelace
Ada Lovelace

Most commonly known as the first computer programmer and the daughter of poet Lord Byron, Ada Lovelace, born 1815, was interested in science from a young age. According to Victoria Aurora, cofounder of the Ada Initiative, which supported women in tech until it closed down in 2015, “Lovelace is an unusual example of a woman for her time,” she told The New Yorker. “She was not only allowed to learn mathematics but encouraged to learn mathematics. She shows what women can do when given a chance.”

Working with the mathematician Charles Babbage, Lovelace contributed invaluable translations and notes to his work, which helped to separate computing from mathematics. She has been the subject of celebrations and the U.S. Department of Defense named a software language after her.

  1. Grace Hopper
Grace Hopper
Grace Hopper

Another trailblazer in the world of computing is Grace Hopper, born in 1906, who was a rear admiral in the U.S. Navy and held a Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale University. Some of Hopper’s achievements in tech include: programming computers; developing validation for compilers; and advocating for computer programs to be written in English. She also pushed for more user-friendly technologies and personal computers. Among her many accolades, the biggest conference of women in technology is named after her: the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.

  1. Anita Borg

Computer scientist Anita Borg, born 1949, was a longtime advocate for women in computing and, according to The New York Times, created an influential e-mail list for women to discuss technical topics. A co-founder of the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, Borg also founded the Institute for Women and Technology. She obtained a Ph.D. from New York University.

  1. Hedy Lamarr
Hedy Lamarr
Hedy Lamarr

A Hollywood movie star during the industry’s “Golden Age,” Hedy Lamarr, born 1914, not only worked with legends including Lana Turner and Clark Gable, she also played an important role in developing wireless technology. As CNET reports, she “paved the way for Wi-Fi.” Lamarr put her technical skills to use working with George Antheil, a composer and inventor. Their work on frequencies for World War II torpedoes wasn’t used by the military, but their patent was later used by companies working on wireless technology; according to CNET, wireless tech—such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi—still use Lamarr’s process.

  1. The Women of ENIAC

During World War II, John Mauchly, a professor, and John Presper Eckert Jr., his genius lab assistant, gathered a team at the University of Pennsylvania to build ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer), the first-ever programmable, electronic computer and a top-secret military project. On the team were six women: Jean Jennings, Marlyn Wescoff, Ruth Lichterman, Frances Bilas, Betty Snider and Kay McNulty. They participated in classified work, which included calculations for the atomic bomb, and played a crucial role in programming the computer.

  1. Edith Clarke

Edith Clarke, born in 1883, was an electrical engineer, and managed a group of women “computers” during World War I. She earned a master’s degree in 1919 in electrical engineering from MIT in, the first woman to do so at that school, and later became the first female electrical engineering professor in the United States, at the University of Texas. In addition, Clarke was the first woman elected a fellow to the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and was a recipient of the Society of Women Engineers Achievement Award.

Get the Ms. Blog in your inbox! Click here to sign up for our newsletter.

Photos via Wikimedia Commons


Mariela Santos is a writer whose work has appeared on websites including Huffington Post Women and Women's iLab. She has an M.A. in International Relations and International Communications from Boston University, and sometimes tweets from @WMNSportsWorld.