In most STEM fields, aka Science Technology Engineering Mathematics, women used to be severely underappreciated due to the patriarchy in society throughout the generations. In modern times women are becoming more recognized in their fields and are more accepted. However, this doesn’t help the women in the past who were looked over and recognized for their contributions. My class decided to write blogs on forgotten women in STEM fields so that those women could gain the recognition they deserved. As such we had to choose a woman who made contributions to STEM fields but was not recognized for her contributions.

I was going to write about Margaret Hamilton, who was a huge contributor to the coding involved with the Apollo missions and other projects, but on November 22, 2016, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by U.S. President Barack Obama for her work. Due to this, I don’t think she counts as a forgotten woman in STEM fields. While this is amazing and well deserved she no longer counts as a proper subject for my blog article.


alt="A black and white picture of Margaret Hamilton standing next to her stack of handwritten coding that was used on the Apollo 11 mission. "
A black and white picture of Margaret Hamilton standing next to her stack of handwritten coding that was used on the Apollo 11 mission.


I also considered Edith Clarke for my blog post. Clarke was the first female electrical engineer and the first female professor of electrical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. She specialized in electrical power system analysis and wrote the book entitled: Circuit Analysis of A-C Power Systems. I steered away from her once I learned she had finally been recognized in 2015 when she was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.


A black and white picture of Edith Clarke with one of her famous quotes saying: “There is no demand for women engineers, as such, as there are for women doctors; but there’s always a demand for anyone who can do a good piece of work.”


I could have talked about Ada Lovelace but since she is the whole reason we have a national holiday for recognizing women in STEM fields that would have been a little cliche.


A colored picture of Ada Lovelace.


I finally decided to focus my blog on Esther Lederberg. If none of you know her name then my point, of why I choose her, is proven already. Unlike the other two women I mentioned, all Esther Lederberg has to her name is being a part of Clark Walk as of 2010 thanks to Stanford University. Clark Walk is a series of granite blocks that memorialize various scientists and events that are connected to Stanford University. It is funny, that she has to share even this honor with a bunch of other scientists because it is just like her contributions to science and medicine which she had to share with her husband and other researchers. Through this blog I will refuse to call Esther Lederberg by Mrs. Lederberg because by doing so will again restrict the mindset to the idea of her just being the wife to Joshua Lederberg. I will, however, include her last name since I didn’t know her personally.

Esther Lederberg was a pioneer of Bacterial Genetics and microbiology, but sadly it was her husband that was granted the Nobel prize in 1958. Her husband was also a phenomenal scientist and possibly provided some stimulus to her work. However, because she was married to him, this undermined her own discoveries and made it seem like they either did the work together or it was his work alone. Some of her achievements include: discovering phage lambda and invented the replica plating technique. I didn’t know what these two things were so I had to look them up. (so don’t feel bad if you were said: huh?) Apparently, the phage lambda is: “a bacterial virus which is widely used as a tool to study gene regulation and genetic recombination” which is found in E. Coli. and the replica plating technique which “is used to isolate and analyze bacterial mutants and track antibiotic resistance”. Through replica plating, they were able to transfer bacteria from one plate to another which allowed them to isolate mutation, like antibiotic resistance, and prove that those mutations were present in the original bacteria.


An image and breakdown of the phage Lambda that Esther Lederberg discovered.
An image of Esther Lederberg’s replica plating technique.


It was Esther Lederberg who was more adept at experimental work than her husband and thus was the main contributor to the isolation of the Lambda phage. Her discovery of its genetic replication process heavily contributed to her husband’s work. Sadly I can only say she was one of the main contributors because of how little recognition she alone received and is credited for. It was due to this work that Joshua Lederberg and Edward Tatum were recognized with the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work in genetics. Sadly she was not recognized for her contributions and due to the fact, she was a woman who was also married to Joshua she was easily pushed to the side and overlooked as a major contributor.

A black and white picture of Esther Lederberg in front of her house.
alt="An image of the Nobel Prize! Gold coin with Alfred Nobel on the front."
An image of the Nobel Prize! Gold coin with Alfred Nobel on the front.

It was for these reasons that I chose Esther Lederberg for my article because I feel like she deserves recognition for her work. Her contributions laid a foundation or base for future work in genetics. I would go into more detail over her work but I honestly don’t understand most of the explanations of it that I have read. As such I don’t feel comfortable trying to explain it to others. Maybe because I don’t understand what her work really entails, that this is another example of how under-appreciated she is. Regardless her work has helped to improve the work for anyone who is in her field. I would love to hear which women in STEM fields you feel deserve recognition. Please comment or email me with your picks and for any feedback, you wish to give me.

All images were taken from Google images under the labeled for reuse tool with the exception of two pictures. The picture of Esther Lederberg was taken from the article: Esther Lederberg, Pioneer of Bacterial Genetics and the picture of Edithe Clarke was taken from this article: 10 Things You Should Know About Edith Clarke, A Badass, Pioneering Electrical Engineer. The sheer fact I had to find pictures that included only them from articles about them, not through Google’s labeled for free use tool, is another sign of how under-appreciated they are.

Web articles I used as resources for this blog:

Microbiology Pioneer

Esther Lederberg, Pioneer of Bacterial Genetics

What is Biotechnology? Miriam Esther Lederberg