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Rachel Carson (1907-1964)
This writer, marine biologist, and nature lover helped raise environmental awareness worldwide. Her first three books about the sea received high praise, but she is best known for her 1962 book, Silent Spring. This best-seller warned of the dangers of pesticides, particularly DDT, on all life. She was widely criticized for her work. Although Carson would not live to see it, DDT would eventually be banned.

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Time 100: Rachel Carson


Gertrude Elion (1918-1999)
The daughter of immigrants, this American pharmacologist developed drugs to fight leukemia and several other diseases. She also developed drugs to facilitate kidney transplants. In 1988, she received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. Co-recipients were Sir James W. Black and George H. Hitchings, with whom she had worked for over 40 years. Elion officially retired in 1983, but she went on to help oversee the development of azidothymidine (AZT), the first drug used in the treatment of AIDS.

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National Women’s Hall of Fame: Gertrude Elion


Dian Fossey (1932-1985)
Inspired by a trip to Africa in 1963, Fossey devoted her life to the study and protection of mountain gorillas. She began to observe gorillas in 1966. Slowly, she earned their trust and was the first person to have friendly contact with a gorilla. When poachers killed one of her favorite gorillas, she started a campaign against gorilla poaching. Her book Gorillas in the Mist brought international attention to the plight of the mountain gorillas.

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Gorilla Fund: Dian Fossey


Grace Murray Hopper (1906-1992)
In 1943, this mathematician joined the U.S. Navy to help win World War II. In the Navy, Hopper developed computer programs and made other improvements that made computers easier for people to use. She was also the first to use the term “bug” for a computer glitch, after a moth found its way into her computer. She became the first woman to achieve the rank of rear admiral in the Navy and, in 1991, the first woman to receive the U.S. Medal of Technology.

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National Women’s Hall of Fame: Grace Murray Hopper

Mae Jemison (1956- )
In 1992, Jemison became the first African-American woman to travel to space. During her eight-day flight on the spacecraft Endeavour, she conducted several scientific experiments on how gravity affects living organisms. Being an astronaut is only one of her many accomplishments. She has also worked as a chemical engineer, a scientist, a physician, and a teacher. Recognizing the lack of diversity in the fields of science and technology, she is committed to encouraging both women and minorities to pursue careers in these areas.

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Women of NASA: Mae Jemison


Barbara McClintock (1902-1992)
For years, scientists believed that genes on a chromosome were like beads on a necklace - that they were held in place and couldn’t change. But in 1951, this geneticist found that genetic information could transfer from one chromosome to another. This information would ultimately help in understanding human disease. And though it would take years before the scientific community acknowledged her findings, at the age of 81, McClintock was awarded the Nobel Prize in Genetics.

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National Women’s Hall of Fame: Barbara McClintock

Margaret Mead (1901-1978)
A keen observer of human behavior, this anthropologist’s life work focused on how cultures influence child rearing, adolescence, and gender roles. She was famous for bringing the science of anthropology to the general public, such as in her first book, Coming of Age in Samoa. For this book, Mead studied teenagers in a Polynesian society, discovering that adolescent rebellion and social roles based on gender are not the same everywhere. This and other works urged Americans to reconsider their notions of adolescence and the role of women in society.

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Women in American History: Margaret Mead

Sally Ride (1951- )
In a field dominated by men, this astronaut made an incredible breakthrough. In 1983, Ride boarded the Space Shuttle Challenger, becoming the first American woman in space. Some of her classmates at NASA believed Ride was chosen because of her gender, but according to shuttle commander Robert Crippen, “She is flying with us because she is the very best person for the job. There is no man I would rather have in her place.”

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First American Woman in Space: Sally Ride

Florence Sabin (1871-1953)
In 1900, Sabin became the first woman to graduate from Johns Hopkins Medical School. Encouraged by a professor who could see past her gender, she pursued a career in the field of anatomy. She went on to teach, becoming the first woman to be named a full professor at Johns Hopkins. Her research led to important discoveries on the origins of the lymphatic system. In 1925, she became the first woman elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

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National Women’s Hall of Fame: Florence Sabin

Chien-Shiung Wu (1912-1997)
As a teenager, Wu came to America from China to study physics. After graduate school, universities would not hire a woman as a physics professor. She continued her research and part-time teaching. In 1956, her research of subatomic particles disproved a common law of physics - and changed the accepted view of the structure of the world. She became a professor at Columbia University and the president of the American Physical Society. In 1975, she received the National Science Medal.

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National Women’s Hall of Fame: Chien-Shiung Wu

Pictures: Associated Press | NASA | Associated Press (2) | Corbis (2) |

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