Thread of truth

By Zelie Vandermeiren

Have you ever thought the Sistine Chapel, grand as it is, was in fact painted by not only one man, Michelangelo, but by a team? Or, Steve Jobs, founder of the software company Apple, but with two other men. Still, history and people seem to only remember one name. Most times, credit is not given to everyone behind a project and sometimes it’s not even to the right person. However, a ‘Thread of Truth’ puts those creatives names at the forefront of the picture.

  

Ada Lovelace – The Analytical Engine

Ever since a young age Ada Lovelace naturally had a gift for mathematics. At the age of 18, she started working for Charles Barrage who witnessed her talent. Barrage’s project was to create, what is today the ancestor of the computer, ‘The Analytical Engine’. What was supposed to be a simple translation of Barrage’s work Barrage, turned into the creation of the first program in the world by Ada.

Ada Lovelace

While working on the translation, Ada was caught trying to make the machine work. Letters between Ada and Barrage confirm Ada’s work and that she was the one creating the algorithm for the machine.

The Analytical Engine exposed in London

But being Barrage’s machine, despite the fact that its operation is mainly due to Ada’s work, she was not credited for it. The Analytical Engine was finished by one of Barrage’s sons, who died before it could be completed. However, nowadays Ada is finally getting the credit she deserved for being the first programmer in the world.

 

 Margarete Steffin – Writer

Born in 1908, Germany, Margarete Steffin was many things such as a writer, an actress, a singer and even a translator. She was also not credited for the work she did with Bertolt Brecht. Margaret was introduced to Brecht while attending a speech technique course. Brecht being a play writer, poet and theatre practitioner, Margarete quickly started to work with him.

Margarete Steffin

Margarete was mentioned a few times as one of Brecht’s collaborators but, in fact, it was more the opposite. For books such as Mere Courage or Galileo, Margarete wrote more than 3/4 of each. She was never remunerated or even credited for them, and Brecht was complicit in these slights. Margarete wasn’t the only one Brecht took advantage of for her writing skills. He was known to steal works, change them a little bit, and then publish them under his name. Nowadays, Brecht’s frauds have been exposed and Margarete is credited for a couple of works she did with him. She didn’t get the recognition for everything, but she has finally been put in the light.

 

 Lee Kraner – Abstract Expressionism Movement

Lee Krasner was an American painter who contributed a lot to the abstract expressionism movement. Developed in the ’40s, the painting movement is “characterised by gestural brush-strokes” and the use of abstraction to express emotions. But Lee Krasner was also the wife of the famous painter Jackson Pollock.

Pollock was one of the major contributors of the movement, and Krasner has always been overshadowed by her husband. Despite her large contribution and work for the movement, Lee Krasner has always been known as Mrs Pollock. And at the time, she was never truly credited as she should have been for everything she has done for the movement. But people are finally seeing the true impact Krasner had and that she was much more than just Mrs Pollock.

 

 Judy Malloy – Hypertext fiction book

In 1986, Judy Malloy was working at the Silicon Valley when she published the first hypertext fiction. As a self-taught computer programmer, she published her own online interactive-narrative novel called Uncle Roger. Judy created a database, so the reader would participate in a multiple-choice scenario, therefore being able to choose the story.

 

Micheal Joyce also released his own hypertext fiction called Afternoon but in 1992, 6 years after Judy’s one. He got all the credit for creating the hypertext fiction, even if Uncle Roger was already well-known and critically acclaimed. It was only because Judy was a woman, and people didn’t want to credit a woman as a technological innovator. But as Judy was congratulated and praised when she released Uncle Roger, her invention wasn’t silenced and she had and still has the recognition for inventing it.

 

 Jocelyn Bell – Pulsar

Jocelyn Bell is known to be part of what we call the Matilda effect. It is when scientific work or/and discoveries by women are attributed to their male colleagues. It is not by mistake but by the desire to erase females names to make the project more professional.

Jocelyn Bell

Jocelyn discovered the first pulsar when she was studying at Cambridge. A pulsar is ” a celestial object, thought to be a rapidly rotating neutron star, that emits regular pulses of radio waves”. At the time, it was a groundbreaking discovery and was even hailed by a Nobel Prize.

A pulsar

However, despite the fact that it was discovered by Jocelyn, it was her thesis director Anthony Hewish who was awarded. This was immensely controversial as people asked why Hewish won the prize despite it being Jocelyn’s discovery. Even if Jocelyn didn’t win the Nobel prize, she was later rewarded for her discovery and won several prizes for it. She is now an acclaimed figure and a pioneer in the astrophysical world.

 

 Mary Shelley – Frankenstein

Even though it has been the subject of controversies, the novel Frankenstein is now published under the name of Mary Shelley. However, the book, published anonymously in 1818, remains an authorial mystery. Being published anonymously, but having the preface signed by Percy Shelley, people thought that Mary’s husband was the author.

Percy denied it and explained that his contribution was merely editorial, therefore establishing that Mary was the author. However, being a woman and only 21 years old, people did not believe she was capable of writing it. For years, Percy was given credit, and still, some believe that Mary would not have been able to write it. Nevertheless, unless you speak to conspirators, no one doubts Mary’s talent and her being the author of the horror-cult, Frankenstein.

 

 Margaret Knight – Paper Bag Machine

The popular paper bags that carried shopping back home was indeed crafted by a handy machine that could fold the paper into square-bottomed bags. Margaret Knight was credited for this handy instrument built for mass production, encountering an envious eye on her prize: Charles Annon. After visiting her factory where the machine was kept, he claimed it as his own; but as the saying goes, there’s only so far you can go. So, Margaret Knight put her footprint on this innovative machine. 

Paper Bag Machine in a museum display
The Paper Bag Machine
Sidonie Gabrielle Colette – Novelist

Nobel Prize nominee in 1948 for Literature, actress and journalist Sidonie Gabrielle Colette was a lady of many talents. She took time to off her busy schedule and wrote, but the writing process did not start off too well. At the time, no one thought that the Parisian novelist, wife of Henry Gauthier Villars, was the author of the book Claudine at School. He was a critic but on his own accord took the title author and went by the ‘nom de plume’ (pen name) ‘Willy’.

Villars dictated to her when he wanted the next Claudine novel sequel. The book was a success, and yet Villars claimed the success as his own. As their marriage crumbled down and lead to divorce, it was only a matter of time that the rightful author showcased her talent as a celebrated novelist. 

 

Margaret Keane – ‘Big Eyes’ painting

To think there could be something that stood out as much as the ‘Big Eyes’ paintings by Margaret Keane. Almost a reminder of the cute puppy-eyes effect that you give in to when your little friend asks for another treat. Talented as she was, she didn’t get that treatment at the start. Locked up in a room, her husband Walter Keane took credit for her paintings of humans with big eyes as his own work. In 1965 when the couple divorced, and Margaret took him to court, the judge settled the case by having both paint this style and in the end, the rightful patent was Margaret Keane. 

Big eyes movie poster

Some people, however, had their names as the owners of their new creative inventions. These are two notable mentions on the list.

 

Lewis Howard Latimer – Globe Supporter Draftsman

Working as part of Thomas Edison’s research group, Lewis Howard Latimer was the draftsman for the globe supporter used on electric lamps. Leading up to his talent, he had learned his craft from watching other draftsmen at the firm he had worked at. Notable inventions also include an improved railroad car bathroom and air conditioning unit. He also worked closely with Alexandra Bell known for the telephone.

Black and white illustration of the electric light bulb
Benjamin Banneker – Wooden Gong Clock

Another man worth mentioning from the 1700s is Benjamin Banneker. With great enthusiasm for learning and being a self-taught mathematician and surveyor, he was fascinated with a pocket watch that his owner lent to him. Through creativity and originality, he handcrafted a wooden clock that would string out a gong every hour and kept time to the second for 40 years. 

Wooden box with commas clock inside
Gong Clock by Benjamin Banneker

From having comments such as ‘no woman could invent such an innovative machine’, by Charles Annon, to feeling one person in a group should take all credit, it does reveal a slight problem. However, the only appropriate acknowledgements are honest. Take for instance films that give recognition at the end for the whole team that contributed to the picture, from the props, make-up artists, and music; the actors and directors are not solely responsible for the production.

 

 This article was written by both  Stacey Potts and Zélie Vandermeiren.

Did you enjoy reading Thread of Truth? Why not read Art at Home? or Life in Data here.

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