Meet The First 2 Black Women To Be Inducted Into The National Inventors Hall Of Fame
By RACHEL TREISMAN, NPR
The National Inventors Hall of Fame has been around for nearly five decades but hasn’t included any Black women in its ranks — until now.
Engineer Marian Croak and the late ophthalmologist Patricia Bath will make history as part of the next cohort of inductees, the nonprofit announced this past week. They are the first Black female inventors to receive this honor, which has been bestowed on some 600 other innovators both living and dead.
A spokesperson told NPR over email that there are 48 female inductees and 30 Black inductees in the National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF).
“Innovation drives the worldwide economy forward and improves our quality of life. This is especially apparent given what we have experienced over the past 18 months,” Michael Oister, the NIHF’s CEO, said in a statement. “It’s why at the National Inventors Hall of Fame we are privileged to honor our country’s most significant inventors, who are giving the next generation the inspiration to innovate, create, and solve current and future problems.”
Croak and Bath are among the seven honorees announced this month and will join the 22 others announced last year as the hall of fame’s Class of 2022. All 29 will be celebrated and inducted at back-to-back ceremonies in Alexandria, Va., and Washington, D.C., in early May.
Here’s what you need to know about these trailblazers.
Bath was a pioneering ophthalmologist whose work reshaped cataract surgery
Bath, who died in 2019 at age 76, was no stranger to making history.
She is recognized as the first Black female physician to receive a medical patent, according to the NIHF, the first Black woman to complete a residency in ophthalmology at New York University and the first woman to chair an ophthalmology residency program in the U.S. (the King-Drew-UCLA Ophthalmology Residency Program), to name just a few of her accolades.
Bath invented laserphaco, a minimally invasive device and technique that performs all steps of cataract removal, from making the incision to destroying the lens to vacuuming out the fractured pieces.
According to Bath’s National Inventors Hall of Fame biography, she came up with the idea in 1981, published her first paper in 1987 and received her first U.S. patent for the device in 1988. It was being used in Europe and Asia by 2000.
“Bath’s method employed a faster technique and established the foundation for eye surgeons to use lasers to restore or improve vision for millions of patients suffering from cataracts worldwide,” reads a news release.
Bath received five patents over the course of her career. She also advocated for using public health approaches to eradicate preventable blindness, especially among racial minorities.
When she was a young intern spending time at both Harlem Hospital and Columbia University, she noticed that half the patients at Harlem’s eye clinic were blind or visually impaired, while at Columbia’s eye clinic, very few were. She studied this and concluded that the high rate of blindness among Black people was because of a lack of access to ophthalmic care, her biography at the National Library of Medicine notes.
In 1976, she proposed the discipline of community ophthalmology, which combines public health, community medicine and clinical and day care programs to provide eye care to underserved populations.
She co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness as well as the Ophthalmic Assistant Training Program at UCLA, whose graduates have worked on blindness prevention.
“To know that my mother is part of the 2022 class of National Inventors Hall of Fame Inductees is an unbelievable honor,” her daughter, Dr. Eraka Bath, said in a statement, saying the hall of fame distinction is “an overdue recognition” of her mother’s accomplishments.
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