Celebrating International Women’s Day with TRN
Updated: Mar 8
In honor of International Women's Day and Women's History Month, Trusted Referral Network is looking back to recognize the pioneers who came before us. Read on for a few of the TRN team's favorite stories of women's achievements in health and technology.
Some of these heroines are unsung to this day. We do our part to change their stories every time we share them.
Ada Lovelace, "The First Programmer" (1815-1852)
The daughter of famous English poet Lord Byron and his mathematically gifted wife, Annabella, Ada Lovelace (named so after her husband became the Earl of Lovelace) struck the ingenious balance of imagination and analysis. Her hunger for knowledge and systematic approach to the unknown guided her through numerous self-initiated investigations from a young age.
When Ada found a friend and mentor in famed mathematician Charles Babbage, her gifts truly took flight. Around 1842, when Babbage was working through the design for his "Analytical Engine"—an intimidating monstrosity of cogs that would one day be recognized as an early computer—26-year-old Ada's moment arrived.
Found in Translation
To help broaden Babbage's audience and drum up financial support for his project, Ada translated an article about the Analytical Engine from French to English, but with her notes added.
Her "notes" not only blew the original article out of the water but also offered visionary statements on the future of computing itself. Her understanding of algorithms and complex sequences produced (what many consider) the first computer program.
The Lovelace Legacy
But, of course, the achievement didn't come without dispute. Ada Lovelace's contributions live under the shadow of skepticism as critics contended that Charles Babbage was primarily responsible for the famous notes. Here the lines blur between whether these critics sought only to ensure due credit was given to Babbage or, more pointedly, to preserve mathematics and computation as "male" pursuits.
Nevertheless, her name and legacy live on in the operational frameworks of multiple industries, but nowhere more literally than in a 1970s computer programming language built for the U.S. Department of Defense. Its name? Ada - a decidedly feminine name woven through what was once considered a strictly "male" arena.
Rebecca Lee Crumpler, Medical Doctor on a Mission (1831-1895)
Rebecca Crumpler was the first Black woman in the United States to obtain an M.D. degree. Raised by an aunt who cared for the sick in her community, Rebecca was exposed to and inspired by the principles of caregiving from a young age. And though no formal nursing school was available in her area of Massachusetts at the time, Rebecca learned on the job by assisting doctors.
Early Commitment to Care
Overcoming the rampant prejudice and discrimination of the time, in 1860, she secured acceptance into the New England Female Medical College in Boston. This was frankly an incredible feat in and of itself, as the relatively young college (opened in 1848) was the first to award M.D.s to women because African Americans—male or female—were still banned from attending most medical schools.
Rebecca attended medical school on an abolitionist-funded scholarship and persevered through a leave of absence to tend to her ill husband, Wyatt, who ultimately died of tuberculosis. In 1864, at 33 years old and against the backdrop of the waning Civil War, Rebecca received her medical degree.
She married Arthur Crumpler, who had previously escaped enslavement and served in the Union Army. The Crumplers relocated from Boston to Richmond, Virginia, where Rebecca committed herself to the countless formerly enslaved men, women, and children in need of care. Her patients, most of whom suffered from poverty and a severe lack of resources, could not pay for her services; and Rebecca endured the racism and sexism of her "colleagues" in the medical community.
Still, Dr. Crumpler continued to care for those in need, regardless of their ability to pay, until she eventually retired to Boston in the 1880s. There, she published A Book of Medical Discourses, which may be the first medical book written by an African American.
Little Known Legacy
Her U.S. National Library of Medicine listing says no "photos or other images survive of Dr. Crumpler." The little we know about her comes from the introduction to her book, a distinctive mark of her achievements as a physician and medical writer…
Rosalind Franklin, Double Helix Discoverer (1920-1958)
Rosalind Franklin was born to a prominent business and banking family in London. But as her mother later said, “all her life, Rosalind knew exactly where she was going, and at 16, she took science for her subject.”
She left home relatively early to attend one of the women’s colleges at Cambridge University, but her time there was a bit tumultuous. World War II repurposed many of the science faculty to serve the war effort, while the U.S. government detained some immigrant faculty members, particularly those from Germany. Still, Rosalind continued through her advanced chemistry studies and spent some time in a Paris laboratory learning to analyze carbons using advanced x-ray techniques.
Upon her return to England as a lab research associate at King's College, she was asked to turn her attention to an early (and complex) DNA project. Her persistence through the project's challenges would yield strikingly clear x-ray diffraction images of DNA structures.
The Double Helix Debate
At the same time, fellow researchers Francis Crick and James Watson worked toward identifying a theoretical model of DNA. Unbeknownst to her, they viewed her notes and x-ray diffraction photos and were able to confirm the correct double helix structure of DNA.
Crick and Watson were quoted as declaring, “we have discovered the secret of life,” with no credit given to Rosalind Franklin or her work. In 1958, Rosalind Franklin died of ovarian cancer. In 1962, Francis Crick, James Watson, and their assistant lab chief, Maurice Wilkins, shared the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.
Over the years, researchers have published conflicting biographies and rebuttals as the debate over her stake in the double helix discovery continues. But what sometimes gets lost in the noise of the discussion is that either way, the discovery was by no means her only accomplishment. She published dozens of papers within her field of research, became a highly sought-after speaker at international conferences, and would likely have risen to even greater renown had her life not been cut short at the age of 37.
Honor Through Understanding
Here’s the truth: to truly appreciate women’s history, we must also understand and confront uncomfortable aspects of our collective past. These are just a few examples, but we believe these stories, and countless more, must be told. Learn about the contributions of women throughout history, and while you’re at it, take time to learn more about and celebrate the inspirational women in your own life, past and present. Happy International Women's Day.
Who are some of your favorite inspirational women, past or present?