Get to Know These 91 Famous Female Scientists

Notable Female Pioneers in Science, Medicine, and Math

Maria Mitchell and students, about 1870
Maria Mitchell and students, about 1870. Interim Archives/Getty Images

Women have made major contributions to the sciences for centuries. Yet surveys repeatedly show that most people can only name a few—often just one or two—female scientists. But if you look around, you'll see evidence of their work everywhere, from the clothing we wear to the X-rays used in hospitals.

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Joy Adamson (Jan. 20, 1910-Jan. 3, 1980)

Joy Adamson
Roy Dumont / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Joy Adamson was a noted conservationist and author who lived in Kenya in the 1950s. After her husband, a game warden, shot and killed a lioness, Adamson rescued one of the orphaned cubs. She later wrote Born Free about raising the cub, named Elsa, and releasing her back to the wild. The book was an international best-seller and earned Adamson acclaim for her conservation efforts. 

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Maria Agnesi (May 16, 1718-Jan. 9, 1799)

Mathematician Maria Gaetana Agnesi
Mathematician Maria Gaetana Agnesi. Bettmann/Getty Images

Maria Agnesi wrote the first mathematics book by a woman that still survives and was a pioneer in the field of calculus. She was also the first woman appointed as a mathematics professor, though she never formally held the position.

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Agnodice (4th century BCE)

The Acropolis of Athens viewed from the Hill of the Muses
The Acropolis of Athens viewed from the Hill of the Muses. Carole Raddato, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Agnodice (sometimes known as Agnodike) was a physician and gynecologist practicing in Athens. Legend has it that she had to dress as a man because it was illegal for women to practice medicine.

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Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (June 9, 1836-Dec. 17, 1917)

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson - about 1875
Frederick Hollyer/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was the first woman to successfully complete the medical qualifying exams in Great Britain and the first woman physician in Great Britain. She was also an advocate of women's suffrage and women's opportunities in higher education and became the first woman in England elected as mayor.

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Mary Anning (May 21, 1799-March 9, 1847)

Mary Anning and her fossils
Dorling Kindersley / Getty Images

Self-taught paleontologist Mary Anning was a British fossil hunter and collector. At age 12 she had found, with her brother, a complete ichthyosaur skeleton, and later made other major discoveries. Louis Agassiz named two fossils for her. Because she was a woman, the Geological Society of London would not permit her to make any presentation about her work.

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Virginia Apgar (June 7, 1909-Aug. 7, 1974)

Portrait of Dr. Virginia Apgar Smiling
Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

Virginia Apgar was a physician best known for her work in obstetrics and anesthesia. She developed the Apgar Newborn Scoring System, which became widely used to assess a newborn's health, and also studied the use of anesthesia on babies. Apgar also helped refocus the March of Dimes organization from polio to birth defects.

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Elizabeth Arden (Dec. 31, 1884-Oct. 18, 1966)

Elizabeth Arden, about 1939
Underwood Archives / Archive Photos / Getty Images

Elizabeth Arden was the founder, owner, and operator of Elizabeth Arden, Inc., a cosmetics and beauty corporation. At the beginning of her career, she formulated the products that she then manufactured and sold.

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Florence Augusta Merriam Bailey (Aug. 8, 1863-Sept. 22, 1948)

Image from page 34 of "A-birding on a bronco" (1896)
Image from Florence Augusta Merriam Bailey's book "A-birding on a bronco" (1896). Internet Archive Book Images, Flickr

A nature writer and ornithologist, Florence Bailey popularized natural history and wrote a number of books about birds and ornithology, including several popular bird guides.

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Francoise Barre-Sinoussi (Born July 30, 1947)

Francoise Barre-Sinoussi
Graham Denholm / Getty Images

French biologist Francoise Barre-Sinoussi helped identify HIV as the cause of AIDS. She shared the Nobel Prize in 2008 with her mentor, Luc Montagnier, for their discovery of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). 

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Clara Barton (Dec. 25, 1821-April 12, 1912)

Clara Barton
SuperStock / Getty Images

Clara Barton is famous for her Civil War service and as the founder of the American Red Cross. A self-taught nurse, she is credited with spearheading the civilian medical response to the carnage of the Civil War, directing much of the nursing care and regularly leading drives for supplies. Her work after the war led to the founding of the Red Cross in the United States.

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Florence Bascom (July 14, 1862-June 18, 1945)

Florence Bascom, Portrait
JHU Sheridan Libraries/Gado / Getty Images

Florence Bascom was the first woman hired by the United States Geological Survey, the second American woman to earn a Ph.D. in geology, and the second woman elected to the Geological Society of America. Her main work was in studying the geomorphology of the Mid-Atlantic Piedmont region. Her work with petrographic techniques is still influential today.

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Laura Maria Caterina Bassi (Oct. 31, 1711-Feb. 20, 1778)

Blue water drop splashing agains water surface
Daniel76 / Getty Images

Professor of anatomy at the University of Bologna, Laura Bassi is most famous for her teaching and experiments in Newtonian physics. She was appointed in 1745 to a group of academics by the future Pope Benedict XIV.

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Patricia Era Bath (Nov. 4, 1942-May 30, 2019)

Young woman having eye test
Zero Creatives / Getty Images

Patricia Era Bath was a pioneer in the field of community ophthalmology, a branch of public health. She founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness. She was the first African-American woman physician to receive a medical-related patent, for a device improving the use of lasers to remove cataracts. She was also the first Black resident in ophthalmology at New York University and the first Black woman staff surgeon at UCLA Medical Center.

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Ruth Benedict (June 5, 1887-Sept. 17, 1948)

Ruth Benedict
Bettmann / Getty Images

Ruth Benedict was an anthropologist who taught at Columbia, following in the footsteps of her mentor, anthropology pioneer Franz Boas. She both carried on and extended his work with her own. Ruth Benedict wrote Patterns of Culture and The Chrysanthemum and the Sword. She also wrote "The Races of Mankind," a World War II pamphlet for the troops showing that racism was not grounded in scientific reality.

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Ruth Benerito (Jan. 12, 1916-Oct. 5, 2013)

Clean laundry
Tetra Images / Getty Images

Ruth Benerito perfected permanent-press cotton, a method of making cotton clothing wrinkle-free without ironing and without treating the surface of the completed fabric. She held many patents for processes to treat fibers so that they would produce wrinkle-free and durable clothing. She worked for the United States Department of Agriculture for much of her career.

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Elizabeth Blackwell (Feb. 3, 1821-May 31, 1910)

First American Woman Physician Eleizabeth Blackwell
Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman to graduate from medical school in the United States and one of the first advocates for women pursuing a medical education. A native of Great Britain, she traveled frequently between the two nations and was active in social causes in both countries.

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Elizabeth Britton (Jan. 9, 1858-Feb. 25, 1934)

New York Botanical Garden
Barry Winker / Photodisc / Getty Images

Elizabeth Britton was an American botanist and philanthropist who helped organize the creation of the New York Botanical Garden. Her research on lichens and mosses laid the foundation for conservation work in the field.

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Harriet Brooks (July 2, 1876-April 17, 1933)

The Fission
Amith Nag Photography / Getty Images

Harriet Brooks was Canada's first nuclear scientist who worked for a while with Marie Curie. She lost a position at Barnard College when she became engaged, by university policy; she later broke that engagement, worked in Europe for a while, and then left science to marry and raise a family.

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Annie Jump Cannon (Dec. 11, 1863-April 13, 1941)

First hired by Harvard College Observatory to carry out astronomical calculations, Annie Jump Cannon (1863-1941) eventually became one of the foremost American astronomers, known especially for her work on variable stars. This photograph shows her at her desk at the observatory.
Smithsonian Institution from United States/Wikimedia Commons via Flickr/Public Domain

Annie Jump Cannon was the first woman to earn a scientific doctorate awarded at Oxford University. An astronomer, she worked on classifying and cataloging stars, discovering five novae.

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Rachel Carson (May 27, 1907-April 14, 1964)

Rachel Carson
Stock Montage / Getty Images

An environmentalist and biologist, Rachel Carson is credited with establishing the modern ecological movement. Her study of the effects of synthetic pesticides, documented in the book Silent Spring, led to the eventual banning of the chemical DDT. 

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Émilie du Châtelet (Dec. 17, 1706-Sept. 10, 1749)

Bright sunshine glare against blue sky
Image by Marie LaFauci / Getty Images

Émilie du Châtelet is known as the lover of Voltaire, who encouraged her study of mathematics. She worked to explore and explain Newtonian physics, arguing that heat and light were related and against the phlogiston theory then current. 

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Cleopatra the Alchemist (1st century A.D.)

Realeoni / Getty Images

Cleopatra's writing documents chemical (alchemical) experiments, noted for the drawings of chemical apparatus used. She is reputed to have documented weights and measurements carefully, in writings that were destroyed with the persecution of the Alexandrian alchemists in the 3rd century.

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Anna Comnena (1083-1148)

Medieval woman writing
dra_schwartz / Getty Images

Anna Comnena was the first woman known to write a history; she also wrote about science, mathematics, and medicine.

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Gerty T. Cori (Aug. 15, 1896-Oct. 26, 1957)

Carl and Gerty Cori
Science History Institute, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)

Gerty T. Cori​ was awarded the 1947 Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology. She helped scientists understand the body's metabolism of sugars and carbohydrates, and later illnesses where such metabolism was disrupted, and the role of enzymes in that process.

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Eva Crane (June 12, 1912-Sept. 6, 2007)

Beekeeping And Honey Production
Ian Forsyth / Getty Images

Eva Crane founded and served as the director of the International Bee Research Association from 1949 to 1983. She originally trained in mathematics and obtained her doctorate in nuclear physics. She became interested in studying bees after someone gave her a gift of a bee swarm as a wedding present.

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Annie Easley (April 23, 1933-June 25, 2011)

Annie Easley
NASA website. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Annie Easley was part of the team that developed software for the Centaur rocket stage. She was a mathematician, computer scientist, and rocket scientist, one of the few African Americans in her field, and a pioneer in the use of the first computers.

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Gertrude Bell Elion (Jan. 23, 1918-April 21, 1999)

Nobel Prize winners, Dr Hitchings and Dr Elion
Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-4.0

Gertrude Elion is known for discovering many medications, including medications for HIV/AIDS, herpes, immunity disorders, and leukemia. She and her colleague George H. Hitchings were awarded the Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine in 1988.

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Marie Curie (Nov. 7, 1867-July 4, 1934)

Marie Curie - portrait of the French scientist, pioneer in the fields of radiation, radioactivity and radiology, working in her laboratory in Sorbonne, Paris 1898.
Culture Club / Getty Images

Marie Curie was the first scientist to isolate polonium and radium; she established the nature of radiation and beta rays. She was the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize and the first person to be honored in two different scientific disciplines: physics (1903) and chemistry (1911). Her work led to the development of the X-ray and research into atomic particles.

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Alice Evans (Jan. 29, 1881-Sept. 5, 1975)

Alice Evans
Library of Congress/Public Domain

Alice Catherine Evans, working as a research bacteriologist with the Department of Agriculture, discovered that brucellosis, a disease in cows, could be transmitted to human beings, especially to those who drank raw milk. Her discovery eventually led to pasteurization of milk. She was also the first woman to serve as president of the American Society for Microbiology.

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Dian Fossey (Jan. 16, 1932-Dec. 26, 1985)

Dian Fossey
Fanny Schertzer/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-3.0

Primatologist Dian Fossey is remembered for her study of mountain gorillas and her work to preserve habitat for gorillas in Rwanda and Congo. Her work and murder by poachers were documented in the 1985 film Gorillas in the Mist.

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Rosalind Franklin (July 25, 1920-April 16, 1958)

Rosalind Franklin had a key role (largely unacknowledged during her lifetime) in discovering the helical structure of DNA. Her work in X-ray diffraction led to the first photograph of the double helix structure, but she did not receive credit when Francis Crick, James Watson, and Maurice Wilkins were awarded the Nobel Prize for their shared research.

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Sophie Germain (April 1, 1776-June 27, 1831)

Sculpture of Sophie Germain
Stock Montage / Archive Photos / Getty Images

Sophie Germain's work in number theory is foundational to the applied mathematics used in ​the construction of skyscrapers today, and her mathematical physics to the study of elasticity and acoustics. She was also the first woman not related to a member by marriage to attend Academie des Sciences meetings and the first woman invited to attend sessions at the Institut de France.

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Lillian Gilbreth (May 24, 1876-Jan. 2, 1972)

Dr. Lillian M. Gilbreth Sitting
Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

Lillian Gilbreth was an industrial engineer and consultant who studied efficiency. With responsibility for running a household and raising 12 children, especially after her husband's death in 1924, she established the Motion Study Institute in her home, applying her learning both to business and to the home. She also worked on rehabilitation and adaptation for the disabled. Two of her children wrote of their family life in Cheaper by the Dozen.

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Alessandra Giliani (1307-1326)

Blood vessel with blood cells, illustration

Alessandra Giliani was reputedly the first to use the injection of colored fluids to trace blood vessels. She was the only known female prosecutor in medieval Europe.

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Maria Goeppert Mayer (June 18, 1906-Feb. 20, 1972)

Maria Goeppert Mayer
Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

A mathematician and physicist, Maria Goeppert Mayer was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963 for her work on the nuclear shell structure.

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Winifred Goldring (Feb. 1, 1888-Jan. 30, 1971)

High Angle View Of Nautilus Fossils Table
Douglas Vigon / EyeEm / Getty Images

Winifred Goldring worked on research and education in paleontology and published several handbooks on the topic for laypeople and for professionals. She was the first woman president of the Paleontological Society.

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Jane Goodall (Born April 3, 1934)

Jane Goodall, 1974
Fotos International/Getty Images

Primatologist Jane Goodall is known for her chimpanzee observation and research at Gombe Stream Reserve in Africa. She is considered the world's leading expert on chimps and has long been an advocate for the conservation of endangered primate populations around the world.

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B. Rosemary Grant (Born Oct. 8, 1936)

With her husband, Peter Grant, Rosemary Grant has studied evolution in action through Darwin's finches. A book about their work won a Pulitzer Prize in 1995.

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Alice Hamilton (Feb. 27, 1869-Sept. 22, 1970)

Bryn Mawr Holds 51st Commencement
Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

Alice Hamilton was a physician whose time at Hull House, a settlement house in Chicago, led her to study and write about industrial health and medicine, working especially with occupational diseases, industrial accidents, and industrial toxins.

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Anna Jane Harrison (Dec. 23, 1912-Aug. 8, 1998)

Amerian Chemical Society
By Bureau of Engraving and Printing; Imaging by jphill19 (U.S. Post Office) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Anna Jane Harrison was the first woman elected as president of the American Chemical Society and the first woman Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Missouri. With limited opportunities to apply her doctorate, she taught at Tulane's women's college, Sophie Newcomb College, then after war work with the National Defense Research Council, at Mount Holyoke College. She was a popular teacher, won a number of awards as a science educator, and contributed to research on ultraviolet light.

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Caroline Herschel (March 16, 1750-Jan. 9, 1848)

Meteor in night sky falling over ocean
Pete Saloutos / Getty Images

Caroline Herschel was the first woman to discover a comet. Her work with her brother, William Herschel, led to the discovery of the planet Uranus.

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Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179)

Hildegard of Bingen
Heritage Images / Getty Images

Hildegard of Bingen, a mystic or prophet and visionary, wrote books on spirituality, visions, medicine, and nature, as well as composing music and carrying out correspondences with many notables of the day.

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Grace Hopper (Dec. 9, 1906-Jan. 1, 1992)

Computer Scientist and Navy Officer Grace Murray Hopper
Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

Grace Hopper was a computer scientist in the United States Navy whose ideas led to the development of the widely used computer language COBOL. Hopper rose to the rank of rear admiral and served as a private consultant to Digital Corp. until her death.

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Sarah Blaffer Hrdy (Born July 11, 1946)

Gibbon and baby orangutan face to face
Daniel Hernanz Ramos / Getty Images

Sarah Blaffer Hrdy is a primatologist who has studied the evolution of primate social behavior, with special attention on the role of women and mothers in evolution.

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Libbie Hyman (Dec. 6, 1888-Aug. 3, 1969)

Giraffes in the savannah, Kenya
Anton Petrus / Getty Images

A zoologist, Libbie Hyman graduated with a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, then worked in a research laboratory on campus. She produced a laboratory manual on vertebrate anatomy, and when she could live on the royalties, she moved on to a writing career, focusing on invertebrates. Her five-volume work on invertebrates was influential among zoologists.

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Hypatia of Alexandria (A.D. 355-416)

Print Collector / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Hypatia was a pagan philosopher, mathematician, and astronomer who may have invented the plane astrolabe, the graduated brass ​hydrometer, and the hydroscope, with her student and colleague, Synesius.

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Doris F. Jonas (May 21, 1916-Jan. 2, 2002)

Elephant and Man hometown in the field on during sunrise ,Surin Thailand
Photographer / Getty Images

A social anthropologist by education, Doris F. Jonas wrote on psychiatry, psychology, and anthropology. Some of her work was co-authored with her first husband, David Jonas. She was an early writer on the relationship of mother-child bonding to language development.

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Mary-Claire King (Born Feb. 27, 1946)

President Obama Awards National Medals Of Science And Nat'l Medals Of Technology And Innovation
Drew Angerer / Getty Images

A researcher studying genetics and breast cancer, King is also noted for the then-surprising conclusion that humans and chimpanzees are quite closely related. She used genetic testing in the 1980s to reunite children with their families after a civil war in Argentina.

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Nicole King (Born 1970)

Candida auris fungi, illustration

Nicole King studies the evolution of multicellular organisms, including the contribution of one-celled organisms (choanoflagellates), stimulated by bacteria, to that evolution.

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Sofia Kovalevskaya (Jan. 15, 1850-Feb. 10, 1891)

Trigonometry On Blackboard In Classroom
Jasmin Awad / EyeEm / Getty Images

Sofia Kovalevskaya, mathematician and novelist, was the first woman to hold a university chair in 19th-century Europe and the first woman on the editorial staff of a mathematical journal.

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Mary Leakey (Feb. 6, 1913-Dec. 9, 1996)

John Eberhardt (left), Mary Leakey (center), and Donald S. Fredrickson (right) at Mary Leakey's early man lecture.
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Mary Leakey studied early humans and hominids at Olduvai Gorge and Laetoli in East Africa. Some of her discoveries were originally credited to her husband and co-worker, Louis Leakey. Her discovery of footprints in 1976 confirmed that australopithecines walked on two feet 3.75 million years ago.

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Esther Lederberg (Dec. 18, 1922-Nov. 11, 2006)

Bacteria in a petri dish

Esther Lederberg created a technique for studying bacteria and viruses called replica plating. Her husband used this technique in winning a Nobel Prize. She also discovered that bacteria mutate randomly, explaining the resistance that is developed to antibiotics, and discovered the lambda phage virus.

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Inge Lehmann (May 13, 1888-Feb. 21, 1993)

gpflman / Getty Images

Inge Lehmann was a Danish seismologist and geologist whose work led to the discovery that the earth's core is solid, not liquid as previously thought. She lived until 104 and was active in the field until her last years.

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Rita Levi-Montalcini (April 22, 1909-Dec. 30, 2012)

Rita Levi-Montalcini, 2008
Morena Brengola/Getty Images

Rita Levi-Montalcini hid from the Nazis in her native Italy, prohibited because she was a Jew from working in academia or practicing medicine, and started her work on chicken embryos. That research eventually won her a Nobel Prize for discovering nerve growth factor, changing how doctors understand, diagnosis, and treat some disorders like Alzheimer's disease.

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Ada Lovelace (Dec. 10, 1815-Nov. 27, 1852)

Mathematical formulas
Anton Belitskiy / Getty Images

Augusta Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace, was an English mathematician who is credited with inventing the first rudimentary system of computation that would later be used in computer languages and programming. Her experiments with Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine led to her developing the first algorithms.

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Wangari Maathai (April 1, 1940-Sept. 25, 2011)

Kenyan activist Wangari Maathai
Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

Founder of the Green Belt movement in Kenya, Wangari Maathai was the first woman in central or eastern Africa to earn a Ph.D., and the first woman head of a university department in Kenya. She was also the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

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Lynn Margulis (March 15, 1938-Nov. 22, 2011)

Scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of mitochondrion
Science Photo Library - STEVE GSCHMEISSNER. / Getty Images

Lynn Margulis is best known for researching DNA inheritance through mitochondria and chloroplasts, and originating the endosymbiotic theory of cells, showing how cells cooperate in the process of adaptation. Lynn Margulis was married to Carl Sagan, with whom she had two sons. Her second marriage was to Thomas Margulis, a crystallographer, with whom she had a daughter and a son.

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Maria the Jewess (1st century A.D.)

Maria the Jewess
Wellcome Images (CC BY 4.0) via Wikimedia Commons

Mary (Maria) the Jewess worked in Alexandria as an alchemist, experimenting with distillation. Two of her inventions, the tribokos and the kerotakis, became standard tools used for chemical experiments and alchemy. Some historians also credit Mary with discovering hydrochloric acid.

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Barbara McClintock (June 16, 1902-Sept. 2, 1992)

Barbara McClintock, 1983
Keystone / Getty Images

Geneticist Barbara McClintock won the 1983 Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology for her discovery of transposable genes. Her study of corn chromosomes led the first map of its genetic sequence and laid the foundation for many of the field's advances.

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Margaret Mead (Dec. 16, 1901-Nov. 15, 1978)

Anthropologist Margaret Mead Gives A Radio Interview
Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Anthropologist Margaret Mead, a curator of ethnology at the American Museum of Natural History from 1928 to her retirement in 1969, published her famous Coming of Age in Samoa in 1928, receiving her Ph.D. from Columbia in 1929. The book, which claimed that girls and boys in the Samoan culture were both taught to and allowed to value their sexuality, was heralded as groundbreaking at the time although some of her findings have been refuted by contemporary research.

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Lise Meitner (Nov. 7, 1878-Oct. 27, 1968)

Physicist Dr. Lise Meitner
Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

Lise Meitner and her nephew Otto Robert Frisch worked together to develop the theory of nuclear fission, the physics behind the atomic bomb. In 1944, Otto Hahn won the Nobel Prize in physics for work that Lise Meitner had shared in, but Meitner was slighted by the Nobel committee.

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Maria Sibylla Merian (April 2, 1647-Jan. 13, 1717)

Monarch butterfly perching on leaf
PBNJ Productions / Getty Images

Maria Sibylla Merian illustrated plants and insects, making detailed observations to guide her. She documented, illustrated, and wrote about the metamorphosis of a butterfly.

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Maria Mitchell (August 1, 1818-June 28, 1889)

Maria Mitchell And Her Students
Interim Archives / Getty Images

Maria Mitchell was the first professional woman astronomer in the United States and the first female member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She is remembered for discovering comet C/1847 T1 in 1847, which was heralded at the time as "Miss Mitchell's comet" in the media.

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Nancy A. Moran (Born Dec. 21, 1954)

Enterobacteriaceae bacteria

Nancy Moran's work has been in the field of evolutionary ecology. Her work informs our understanding of how bacteria evolve in response to the evolution of the host's mechanisms for defeating the bacteria.

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May-Britt Moser (Born Jan. 4, 1963)

The Nobel Prize Laureates in Medicine 2014: Edvard Moser, May-Britt Moser and John Michael O'Keefe at a press conference in December 2014
Gunnar K. Hansen/NTNU/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA-2.0

A Norwegian neuroscientist, May-Britt Moser was awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine. She and her co-researchers discovered cells close to the hippocampus that help determine spatial representation or position. The work has been applied to neurological diseases including Alzheimer's.

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Florence Nightingale (May 12, 1820-Aug. 13, 1910)

Florence Nightingale with her owl, Athena
SuperStock / Getty Images

Florence Nightingale is remembered as the founder of modern nursing as a trained profession. Her work in the Crimean War established a medical precedent for sanitary conditions in wartime hospitals. She also invented the pie chart.

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Emmy Noether (March 23, 1882-April 14, 1935)

Emmy Noether
Pictorial Parade / Getty Images

Called "the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began" by Albert Einstein, Emmy Noether escaped Germany when the Nazis took over and taught in America for several years before her early death.

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Antonia Novello (Born Aug. 23, 1944)

Antonia Novello
Public domain

Antonia Novello served as U.S. surgeon general from 1990 to 1993, the first Hispanic and the first woman to hold that position. As a physician and medical professor, she focused on pediatrics and child health.

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Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin (May 10, 1900-Dec. 7, 1979)

Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin
Smithsonian Institution from United States/Wikimedia Commons via Flickr/Public Domain

Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin earned her first Ph.D. in astronomy from Radcliffe College. Her dissertation demonstrated how helium and hydrogen were more abundant in stars than on earth, and that hydrogen was the most abundant and by implication, though it was against conventional wisdom, that the sun was mostly hydrogen.

She worked at Harvard, originally with no formal position beyond  "astronomer." The courses she taught were not officially listed in the school's catalog until 1945. She later was appointed a full professor and then head of the department, the first woman to hold such a title at Harvard.

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Elena Cornaro Piscopia (June 5, 1646-July 26, 1684)

University of Padua
By Leon petrosyan (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia Commons

Elena Piscopia was an Italian philosopher and mathematician who became the first woman to earn a doctoral degree. After graduating, she lectured on math at the University of Padua. She is honored with a stained-glass window at Vassar College in New York.

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Margaret Profet (Born Aug. 7, 1958)

Fuzzy dandelion seeds in a spider web
Teresa Lett / Getty Images

With training in political philosophy and physics, Margaret (Margie) Profet created scientific controversy and developed a reputation as a maverick with her theories about the evolution of menstruation, morning sickness, and allergies. Her work on allergies, in particular, has been of interest to scientists who have long noted that people with allergies have a lower risk of some cancers. 

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Dixy Lee Ray (Sept. 3, 1914-Jan. 3, 1994)

Dixy Lee Ray
Smithsonian Institution from United States/Wikimedia Commons via Flickr/Public Domain

A marine biologist and environmentalist, Dixy Lee Ray taught at the University of Washington. She was tapped by President Richard M. Nixon to head the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), where she defended nuclear power plants as environmentally responsible. In 1976, she ran for governor of Washington state, winning one term, then losing the Democratic primary in 1980.

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Ellen Swallow Richards (Dec. 3, 1842-March 30, 1911)

Eptifibatide anticoagulant drug molecule

Ellen Swallow Richards was the first woman in the United States to be accepted at a scientific school. A chemist, she's credited with founding the discipline of home economics.

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Sally Ride (May 26, 1951-July 23, 2012)

Sally Ride
Space Frontiers / Getty Images

Sally Ride was a U.S. astronaut and physicist who was one of the first six women recruited by NASA for its space program. In 1983, Ride became the first American woman in space as part of the crew aboard the space shuttle Challenger. After leaving NASA in the late '80s, Sally Ride taught physics and wrote a number of books.

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Florence Sabin (Nov. 9, 1871-Oct. 3, 1953)

Portrait of Career Women at Tribute Dinner
Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

Called the "first lady of American science," Florence Sabin studied the lymphatic and immune systems. She was the first female to hold a full professorship at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, where she had begun studying in 1896. She advocated for women's rights and higher education.

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Margaret Sanger (Sept. 14, 1879-Sept. 6, 1966)

Portrait Of Margaret Sanger
Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

Margaret Sanger was a nurse who promoted birth control as a means by which a woman could exercise control over her life and health. She opened the first birth-control clinic in 1916 and fought a number of legal challenges over the coming years to make family planning and women's medicine safe and legal. Sanger's advocacy laid the groundwork for Planned Parenthood. 

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Charlotte Angas Scott (June 8, 1858-Nov. 10, 1931)

Campus of Rosemont College in Autumn
aimintang / Getty Images

Charlotte Angas Scott was the first head of the mathematics department at Bryn Mawr College. She also initiated the College Entrance Examination Board and helped organize the American Mathematical Society.

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Lydia White Shattuck (June 10, 1822-Nov. 2, 1889)

Mount Holyoke Seminary
Smith Collection/Gado / Getty Images

An early graduate of Mount Holyoke Seminary, Lydia White Shattuck became a faculty member there, where she remained until her retirement in 1888, just a few months before her death. She taught many science and math topics, including algebra, geometry, physics, astronomy, and natural philosophy. She was internationally known as a botanist.

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Mary Somerville (Dec. 26, 1780-Nov. 29, 1872)

Somerville College, Woodstock Road, Oxford, Oxfordshire, 1895. Artist: Henry Taunt
Heritage Images/Getty Images / Getty Images

Mary Somerville was one of the first two women admitted to the Royal Astronomical Society whose research anticipated the discovery of the planet Neptune. She was dubbed "queen of 19th-century science" by a newspaper on her death. Somerville College, Oxford University, is named for her.

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Sarah Ann Hackett Stevenson (Feb. 2, 1841-Aug. 14, 1909)

New beginnings.
Petri Oeschger / Getty Images

Sarah Stevenson was a pioneer woman physician and medical teacher, a professor of obstetrics and the American Medical Association's first female member.

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Alicia Stott (June 8, 1860-Dec. 17, 1940)

Percentage Sign Consists of Pencil and Pie Chart
MirageC / Getty Images

Alicia Stott was a British mathematician known for her models of three- and four-dimensional geometric figures. She never held a formal academic position but was recognized for her contributions to mathematics with honorary degrees and other awards.

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Helen Taussig (May 24, 1898-May 20, 1986)

Helen B. Taussig Testifying Before Senate
Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

Pediatric cardiologist Helen Brooke Taussig is credited with discovering the cause of "blue baby" syndrome, a cardiopulmonary condition often fatal in newborns. Taussing codeveloped a medical implement called the Blalock-Taussig shunt to correct the condition. She was also responsible for identifying the drug Thalidomide as the cause of a rash of birth defects in Europe.

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Shirley M. Tilghman (Born Sept. 17, 1946)

Professor And Columnist Paul Krugman Wins Nobel In Economics
Jeff Zelevansky / Getty Images

A Canadian molecular biologist with several prestigious teaching awards, Tilghman worked on gene cloning and on embryonic development and genetic regulation. In 2001, she became the first woman president of Princeton University, serving until 2013.

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Sheila Tobias (Born April 26, 1935)

Girl counting with fingers and writing in notebook
JGI/Jamie Grill / Getty Images

Mathematician and scientist Sheila Tobias is best known for her book Overcoming Math Anxiety, about women's experience of math education. She has researched and written extensively about gender issues in math and science education. 

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Trota of Salerno (Died 1097)

Trotula De Ornatu Mulierum
PHGCOM [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Trota is credited with compiling a book on women's health that was widely used in the 12th century called the Trotula. Historians consider the medical text one of the first of its kind. She was a practicing gynecologist in Salerno, Italy, but little else is known about her.

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Lydia Villa-Komaroff (Born August 7, 1947)

DNA strand, illustration

A molecular biologist, Lydia Villa-Komaroff is known for her work with recombinant DNA that contributed to developing insulin from bacteria. She has researched or taught at Harvard, the University of Massachusetts, and Northwestern. She was only the third Mexican-American to be awarded a science Ph.D. and has won many awards and recognition for her achievements.

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Elisabeth S. Vrba (Born May 17, 1942)

Elisabeth Vrba
By Gerbil (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia Commons

Elisabeth Vrba is a noted German paleontologist who has spent much of her career at Yale University. She is known for her research into how climate affects species evolution over time, a theory known as the turnover-pulse hypothesis.

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Fanny Bullock Workman (Jan. 8, 1859-Jan. 22, 1925)

Lava and moss landscape, Reykjanes Peninsula, Iceland
Arctic-Images / Getty Images

Workman was a cartographer, geographer, explorer, and journalist who chronicled her many adventures around the world. One of the first female mountaineers, she made multiple trips to the Himalayas at the turn of the century and set a number of climbing records.

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Chien-Shiung Wu (May 29, 1912-Feb.16, 1997)

Chien-Shiung Wu in a Laboratory
Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

Chinese physicist Chien-Shiung Wu worked with Dr. Tsung Dao Lee and Dr. Ning Yang at Columbia University. She experimentally disproved the "parity principle" in nuclear physics, and when Lee and Yang won the Nobel Prize in 1957 for this work, they credited her work as being key to the discovery. Chien-Shiung Wu worked on the atomic bomb for the United States during World War II at Columbia's Division of War Research and taught university-level physics.

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Xilingshi (2700–2640 BCE)

many cocoon's strings gather up
Yuji Sakai / Getty Images

Xilinshi, also known as Lei-tzu or Si Ling-chi, was a Chinese empress who is generally credited with having discovered how to produce silk from silkworms.The Chinese were able to keep this process secret from the rest of the world for more than 2,000 years, creating a monopoly on silk fabric production. This monopoly led to a lucrative trade in silk fabric.

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Rosalyn Yalow (July 19, 1921-May 30, 2011)

Dr. Rosalyn Yalow...
Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

Yalow developed a technique called radioimmunoassay (RIA), which allows researchers and technicians to measure biological substances using only a small sample of a patient's blood. She shared the 1977 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with her co-workers on this discovery.

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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Get to Know These 91 Famous Female Scientists." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2023, April 5). Get to Know These 91 Famous Female Scientists. Retrieved from Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Get to Know These 91 Famous Female Scientists." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).