Feel Empowered! Teaching About Female Inventors

Inspire children to learn and create by teaching the history of female inventors during National Inventors Month.

By Bethany Stagliano

scientist in a lab

What do windshield wipers, a dishwasher, and White-Out all have in common? Women invented them all! Female inventors have overcome many obstacles in order to invent products that have changed the way we live today. Conduct some research, learn about famous inventors, and have your students use their brainpower to create their own inventions!

Inventors Abound

The list of female inventors is well into the hundreds—from inventions of household items, to advances in technology and science; all have made huge changes in our world.

Display photographs of items invented by women, such as the X-ray machine, windshield wipers, disposable diapers, and the bottom of a paper bag. Ask your class if they know who invented these items. Reveal that women invented all of them!

Ideas for student activities:

  • Write a report or give a PowerPoint presentation on a female inventor.

  • Have pupils play the role of a woman inventor, and give a presentation to their classmates through the eyes of their inventor.

  • Research and provide information on the challenges woman inventors faced in their respective time periods.

Based on grade, ability, and available time, teachers may allow scholars to research and find their own female inventor, or choose from a provided list of inventors.

Everyone Has a Story

The following three women invented items that are very well- known today. There are hundreds of other women who have contributed their inventions to our society. Teachers may use these three inventors as examples to begin their discussion on female inventors and the struggles that women face in the business world, both in past and in the present.

Margaret Knight worked in a paper bag factory and ended up inventing the square bottom that holds the paper bag upright. In the year 1860, the men that Margaret worked for initially refused to install the machinery needed to make the stand-up paper bags, citing the fact that Margaret was a woman.

  • Why was this an important invention?

  • Why did the men not want to install the machinery?

Bette Nesmith Graham hated making mistakes as she typed out reports and letters on her typewriter. She quickly realized that simple water-based paint could be used to cover up her errors. Her co-workers were impressed and wanted a bottle of this work-saving material! Bette put some in a jar and labeled it “Mistake Out”.

  • How has this invention changed how we write our papers and fill out applications?

  • Bette formed organizations to assist women in business. Are women still looked down upon in business today, and if so why?

Mary Anderson was visiting New York City in the early 1900s and noticed that drivers had to stick their heads out of the window to see while driving on a rainy day. She invented a swinging arm-like contraption that used a rubber blade to remove rain, snow, and sleet from the windshields of cars.

  • Why could this invention be considered one of the greatest automobile inventions of all time (i.e. How does it relate to safety?)

  • Do you believe Mary was given respect for her invention back in 1903?

Margaret, Bette, and Mary took a common problem and applied a solution; inventing things that changed the world. Could you imagine life without these inventions?

Change History

Ask your pupils to brainstorm an invention of their own. Instruct them to devise a solution to a common “kid” problem. Does your juice glass get too cold? Is the basketball hoop set too high? Is it difficult to reach in the bag to eat those last few potato chips?

  • Have learners work independently, in partners, or in groups as you deem appropriate.

  • Introduce computer programs and pseudo materials to allow creation of inventions

  • Have your “inventors” showcase their final products to their classmates, schoolmates, parents, and beyond (politician’s office, home for elderly, etc.).

Related Lessons:

Invention Internet Hunt

Pupils learn about inventors and the ins and outs of inventions by completing this research task sheet.

You, Too, Can Be an Inventor!

Classroom inventors learn what it takes to create their every own inventions.

Inventor Card Game

Pupils create a card game to remember the important people whose inventions changed our world.