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Women Inventors

Modern textbooks are lined with the names of female artists, politicians, heroines and activists. Historically, famous women inventors, however, are less evident in the various rosters of important contributors to Canadian and, more specifically, Albertan society. While obscurity is a problem faced by both male and female inventors, there are specific circumstances that have pushed female innovators even further from the spotlight. In her book Mothers and Daughters of Invention, historian Autumn Stanley attempts to call attention to this imbalance and outlines some of the conditions that may have led to a lack of recognition for female inventions and innovations in the past.

Even though they possess an equal capacity for invention, Stanley argues, there is currently no accurate historical record of exactly how many inventions were by women. She outlines numerous historical reasons for this disparity, including

  • The expense of obtaining a patent put the process out of reach of most women
  • Domestic, parental and social duties that have demanded a great deal of attention, and have not allowed for the time needed to complete the lengthy patent application process
  • The ownership of a woman’s property by her husband (many inventions by women may have been patented under a spouse’s name)
  • The availability, or lack thereof, of the high level of education or technical training required for women to translate their ideas into a "working, practical form"
  • A reluctance of society to accept a woman's participation in inventive activities

Alberta Women's InstituteToday, many scholars agree that women have been inventing since prehistory in the areas of agriculture, medicine and within the domestic sphere. If the spirit of invention is to solve problems and make life easier, then it makes sense that within their spheres of influence women would have been just as likely to generate inventive and innovative solutions.

Despite an absence of public recognition, Alberta women have been inventing and innovating since the turn of the century. Among those who contributed to a long legacy of female inventors is Frances Kallal. A resident of Tofield, Alberta for 65 years, she created a hoe rake, which was patented in 1943. The tool, a combination of a hoe and rake, was invented to ease the burden of carrying multiple tools around her sizeable garden. Likewise in 1995, Alberta inventor and entrepreneur Laurie Tandrup conceived the Travelbud, a child support system used separately or with external equipment such as car seats and strollers.

Terry AllenIt would be impossible to list all of the female inventors and innovators who have contributed to advances in Canadian society. The work of the early inventors like Frances Kallal blazed a trail for today’s female innovators. As more and more women enter careers in engineering, science and technology fields, their names are appearing beside substantial breakthroughs and discoveries. Dr. Terry Allen, a pharmacology teacher and researcher at the University of Alberta, is one of a vast array of female scientists making waves in the scientific community. Dr. Allen developed and patented an important new cancer treatment involving the use of liposomes.

Nancy Knowlton of Calgary capitalized on the "Alberta Advantage" when she and her business partner David Martin began their company with their own capital. Years later, Smart Technologies Inc. is globally successful, supplying institutions as notable as the University of Western Ontario, NASA and the New York City Port Authority with their SMART Board, a whiteboard, computer and projector all in one that allows people to collaborate, in real-time in an electronically shared space.

Women inventors in the 21st century have many valuable resources at their disposal. Professional organizations such as the Alberta Women's Enterprise Initiative Association (AWEIA) support business women with an entrepreneurial and inventive drive through loan programs, business coaching and online general information. Likewise, the Inventive Woman website offers a variety of resources, newsletters and profiles of Canadian women who are among the country’s most important inventors and innovators. Finally, academic organizations such as WISEST (Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science and Technology), provide a support system for women involved with cutting-edge research.

"Women of Aspenland" by   Catherine C. Cole

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