As we celebrate World Intellectual Property Day today with a particular focus on women who are powering change, we thought we would look back at some remarkable female innovators in our past.

These women, who lived in Australia from pre-federation to the mid 20th Century, persisted with their passions and interests in a time when women were discouraged from participating in the professional or academic spheres.

Despite hardship and setbacks they paved the way for female innovators today. Their brilliance, ingenuity, curiosity and courage can inspire the rest of us to keep persisting and keep innovating.

Caroline Louisa Atkinson (Calvert) (1834 – 1872)

At 23 years of age, Carolina Louisa Atkinson became the first Australian woman to write a novel published in her own. The novel was called ‘Gertrude the Immigrant: A Tale of Colonial Life’ and was published by ‘An anonymous lady’ in 1857. She went on to publish many more novels and serials under her own name.

Carolina also made a large contribution to early botany. She was a regular contributor to the Horticultural Magazine and advocate of native plants – in 1865 she provided readers a jar of native cranberry (Lissanthe sapida) jam in an effort to encourage people to eat the native fruit. You can find a large collection of Caroline’s drawings of Australian native flora in the Mitchell Library in Sydney. Botanist George Bentham acknowledged Caroline’s detailed original botanical research on Blue Mountains and Berrima specimens around 120 times in his book ‘Flora Australiensis’.

Frances (Fanny) Leona Macleay (1793 – 1836)

Another writer and scientist, Frances Leona Macleay (Fanny) became well known through the letters she wrote to her older brother describing Sydney life from 1826-1836. She also had an active interest in science since childhood and became an accomplished artist who drew accurate scientific illustrations for her father, who was a reputable scientist.

Mary Penfold (1820 – 1896)

Many have heard of Penfolds Wines, but not necessarily the woman that founded the winery - Mary Penfold. Winemaking was Mary’s interest and her husband’s interest was in giving it to his patients as he was convinced of the medicinal powers of red wine. They started with port and Sherry and then discovered clarets and Rieslings sold better. While the Penfolds couple planned the vineyard together, what had originally been conceived as an adjunct to a medical practice developed into a thriving and prestigious business due to Mary’s passion and guidance, according to Susanna De Vries in her book ‘Strength of Spirit: pioneering women of achievement from first fleet to federation’.

Constance Stone (1856-1902)

Constance Stone was the first woman to be registered as a medical practitioner in Australia, even though she was initially turned down as a student by the University of Melbourne because she was a woman.

After graduating Constance found it difficult to gain a hospital residency so she collaborated with 11 other women to form ‘The Women’s Hospital’ which became the ‘Queen Victoria Hospital for Women and Children.’ It aimed to treat working class women for free and abolish the ordeal of ward rounds, where women in mainstream hospitals who could not afford fees were forced to endure medical examinations by medical students who treated them in a patronising manner. These women were all active and unrelenting advocates for vaccinations and other humanitarian preventative measures that we take for granted today.

Florence Mary Taylor (1879 – 1969)

Florence Mary Taylor was Australia’s first female architect and engineer (structural and civil). She was finally able to gain accreditation at the age of 41, 13 years after graduating

With her husband she established the Building Publishing Company, a producer of trade and professional journals. They were also both founding members of the Town Planning Association in New South Wales. Florence had progressive ideas about town planning which she pursued relentlessly. However she struggled to be taken seriously at the time because she was a woman. Only towards the end of her professional life and after the death of her husband did her articles start to become highly regarded and taken seriously.

The above highlights are based on information from the books ‘Strength of Spirit: pioneering women of achievement from first fleet to federation’ and ‘Strength of purpose: Australian women of achievement from federation to the mid 20th Century’, both by Susanna De Vries. The images are also taken from these books.

More posts for World IP Day 2018:

Other articles about women in intellectual property

26 April 2018