Girls Think of Everything: A book review by Bob Morris

Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women
Catherine Thimmesh, Illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2002)

An entertaining as well as informative celebration of ingenuity

I read this book in combination with Rachel Ignotofsky’s Women in Science, regretting that civilization has not as yet advanced a point when achievements no longer need be identified as gender-specific. Be that as it may, both books provide valuable information and insights about creative thinking.

Catherine Thimmesh’s coverage covers a time frame from 3000 BC when fourteen-year-old Hsi-ling-shi develops a method of gathering and weaving silk until 1994 when eleven-year-old Alexia Arnold  designs the Ooops! Proof No-Spill Feeding Bowl.

In between, we learn about other women — often teenage — who come up with ideas that also illustrate the prescience of these comments by Francea Hodgson Burnett: “At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done — then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago.”

I wish I had a dollar for every time — over the years — when I learned about the origin of a breakthrough idea and asked, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Here are some other examples:

o Ruth Wakefield: Toll House chocolate cookies
o Mary Andersen: windshield wipers
o Stephanie Kwolek: Kevlar
o Bette Naismith Graham: Liquid Paper®
o Patsy O. Shernan: Scotchgard
o Margaret E. Knight: paper bags
o Becky Schroeder: the Glo-sheet

More often than not, someone becomes exasperated, asking “Why hasn’t someone come up with a way — or a better  way — to …?” and then provides the answer. That’s essentially what happened to several men who did some creative thinking: Spencer Silver (Post-it Notes), George de Mestral (Teflon), Wilbert and Robert Gore (Goretex).  That’s what also happened with many of the other female inventors that Catherine Thimmesh discusses in her book. Sometimes an epiphany of sorts, either instantaneously or after a lengthy period of time and many unsuccessful efforts.

She concludes, “Suppose you have an invention of your own. It’s different, it’s new, it’s neat. Now what? Obtaining a patent may be an important first step.” She then explains how to proceed, noting that  obtaining a patent can be an extended and expensive process.  “Not all inventions will benefit from having a patent.” It makes sense to  contact the U.S. Patent Office at its website and check out the resources available, then obtain legal counsel.

As with Women in Science, this book challenges young women to “think of everything” that can be improved, or replaced by something else that is better. It also challenges others — parents, other family members, friends, teachers, coaches, and clergy — to support their efforts.

 

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