C. D. Tuska, a patent director of RCA, tried to analyze the reasons for the dearth of women inventors in a 1957 book on inventors and invention: "Why is the percentage [of female inventors] so low? I am sure I don't know, unless the good Lord intended them to be mothers. I, being old-fashioned, hold that they are creative enough without also being 'inventive.' They produce the inventors and help rear them, and that should be sufficient."
The perception of the female inventor has changed a bit from the unabashed chauvinism of the Ozzie and Harriet era. In the past decade or so, a spate of books have feted women as something more than nursemaids for young Thomas Edisons-to-be. In the recent Patently Female: From AZT to TV Dinners, Ethlie Ann Vare and Greg Ptacek acknowledge the stereotyping by Tuska and others. Then they go to the opposite extreme by elevating women to an exalted status in the annals of human ingenuity: "Can there be any doubt that in the earliest civilizations the gatherers advanced agriculture through invention and innovation while the boys were out hunting? It was most likely a woman who first cultivated a crop, domesticated an animal and fashioned a plow."
This article was originally published with the title Wanted: More Mothers of Invention.