The National Women’s History Museum recently inaugurated a unique awards evening – the Christine de Pizan Honors Gala – to celebrate the legend of pioneering women of the past by showcasing their achievements alongside the contributions of their modern inheritors. The 2011 honorees are: Hedy Lamarr and Marissa Mayer in the fields of telecommunications and technology; Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Cathy Hughes for accomplishments in media and communications; and Admiral Grace Hopper and Helen Greiner for their work in computer technology and digital innovation.
Meryl Streep, the Museum’s spokeswoman, served as host of the Nov. 16 gala in the Amphitheater of the Ronald Reagan Building. No actor has received more Academy Award nominations, a distinction that underscores the quality of her dramatic career. Her vivid portrayals of women from all walks of life and through all of its stages resonate everywhere in the realm of theater.
She lived in the South during the Jim Crow era, but Ida Wells-Barnett (1862-1931) did not hesitate to use her newspaper to speak out against the injustices suffered by her African-American community. When her news office in Memphis was burned, she moved to a larger stage – Chicago – and continued fighting for civil rights as a journalist, suffragist and founding member of the NAACP. Accepting the award in her name is Cathy Hughes, Founder and Chairperson of Radio One, the nation’s largest broadcast company owned and operated by an African-American. Radio One is a dominant presence in talk radio, music and news – a voice that engages the listening audience, starts conversations, promotes thought, and illuminates our times.
Her beauty and charisma made Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000) an international screen actress in the 1930s and 1940s. During World War II, Lamarr also worked clandestinely as a research scientist to pioneer a radio anti-jamming device that would prove crucial during the Cold War. Her research is now recognized as fundamental to today’s wireless technology. Lamarr’s award is shared by Marissa Mayer, the first female engineer hired by Google in 1999. Now vice president of Local, Maps, and Location Services at Google, Mayer has launched more than 100 of the company’s iconic features and products. If you’re looking at Google, you’re looking at what Marissa Mayer can do.
Admiral Grace Hopper (1906-1992) was the first woman to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale, giving her entrée to secret research programs with the U.S. Navy during World War II and the highest levels of their technology, including the development of the electronic computer prototype. Dr. Hopper was one of the first to predict that computers would someday be a presence in most American homes. Helen Greiner accepts the de Pizan Award in technology and innovation in her honor. Greiner is the founder of iRobot, a company that delivers robots to industrial, military and consumer markets. Her research in unmanned vehicle systems has contributed to programs at NASA, CalTech’s Jet Propulsion Lab and MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Lab. Currently, she is the CEO of CyPhyWorks, a robotics company founded in 2008.