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Women Innovators: Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future

  Drawing of a woman in a black dress, with gold bands across her chest and a medallion at the center with the letters AT, stands holding an open book with a gold cover. There are two lit torches behind her and green swirls.

Design for Title Page, "Occupations of Women and Their Compensation," around 1899. Designed by Alice Cordelia Morse. Gift of Alice C. Morse. Image by Andrew Garn © Smithsonian Institution. Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum; Accession Number: 2009-6-55.

By Ashleigh Coren and Chanelle Pickens of the Smithsonian American Women's History Initiative 

This month the Smithsonian released a lifelong learning activity guide with USA TODAY, "We Built This: How Women Innovators Shaped the World." The guide, created by the American Women's History Initiative's education team, includes stories of pioneering innovators and their life-changing innovations. Stories, objects, puzzles, and activities are presented in the 12-page guide. Curious children, adults, and families will find entertainment and engagement within its pages.  

Sepia photo of Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte
Portrait of Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte  (Omaha). National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

"We are only beginning; so do not try to put us down, but help us to climb higher." —Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte (Omaha) 

Anyone can innovate when given space, tools, and encouragement. Discover your own opportunities for innovation. Explore stages of the creative process "map" or try your hand at the creative thinking challenge. 

"We Built This: How Women Innovators Shaped the World" is available for free download. The guide has also been printed and distributed to USA TODAY subscribers in select cities nationwide. 

To conclude Women's History Month 2022, here's a peek at some of the Smithsonian elements featured through the stories and activities in the guide: 

  • Did you know cytogenetics is the study of chromosomes and their genetic expression? Learn about the groundbreaking research cytogeneticist Barbara McClintock conducted on corn at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. 
  • Discover why Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos is also celebrated as an advocate and activist.  
  • Learn disability history in Alverna Williams' groundbreaking work as a professional pilot. 
  • In the 1950s, Black teens in Arkansas took a risk simply by attending school. Learn how Daisy Bates and the Little Rock Nine set in motion events that would shape the country. 
  • Did you know ophthalmologist Dr. Patricia Bath co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness in 1976? Learn about her important work to address blindness and visual impairment in underserved communities and around the world.
  • Read how the JogBra broke ground by providing support for women athletes and watch an interview with inventors Lisa Lindahl, Hinda Miller, and Polly Palmer Smith
Black and white Jogbra ad with two light-skinned women running and the text: Jogbra. No man-made sporting bra can touch it.
A late 1970s Jogbra ad featuring two co-designers as models. It boasts that the product was invented by women and compares the sports bra to running shoes as necessary protective sports equipment. Jogbra, Inc. Records, 1977-1990, Archives Center.

Download "We Built This: How Women Innovators Shaped the World" and get inspired! 

See the Guide

"We Built This: How Women Innovators Shaped the World" is a collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution, USA TODAY, and Funnel Design Group. The Smithsonian's American Women's History Initiative, Office of Advancement, Office of Communications and External Affairs, Office of the Under Secretary for Education, and the broader Smithsonian community contributed to the guide. 

Support for this USA TODAY guide was made possible by Lead Sponsor FedEx, with additional support provided by the Ford Motor Company Fund, the Smithsonian Regional Councils, and Nancy Pasternack. 

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Ashleigh D. Coren is the acting head of education for the Smithsonian American Women's History Initiative and the women's history content and interpretation curator at the National Portrait Gallery. Coren's work is centered on using Smithsonian collections to share the history of women in America. 

Chanelle Pickens is the education assistant for the Smithsonian American Women's History Initiative. She is interested in developing pathways of support that enhance the classroom experience and stimulate curiosity for educators and learners. 

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