Women and Technology in the 1900s


From 1877 to 1919, the Harvard Observatory hired women as “human computers” to process astronomical data. Despite their college degrees, they earned wages similar to those of an unskilled worker.

To view this photo in context and to read more about these “human computers,” see this Smithsonian article about the Harvard Observatory in the start of the 20th century.

This photo comes from Harvard University and is titled “Astronomer Edward Charles Pickering’s Harvard computers” and is authored by the Harvard College Observatory. It can be found in the Wikimedia Commons and is now in the public domain because it was published before January 1st, 1923.


In November 1903 Mary Anderson, pictured above with her patent drawing, was granted a patent for an automatic car window cleaning device that is now known as the windshield wiper.

To view the photo in context and for additional reading about Mary’s invention, see this story about Anderson’s invention, which was posted on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s website.

The photo pictured above was posted to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in the article from the above link by Dennis Forbes. Further information is unknown.


Many women in the early 20th century interacted with technology while working in crowded factories. Such women are pictured above using machines to assemble locks and drills in an Ohio factory in 1902.

For additional reading about women at work in the 1900s, check out this timeline from the Discovery Education.

This photo is possession of the Detroit Photographic Company and was taken by William H. Jackson in 1902. The ID number in DPC’s archive is 04756.


After working in the Columbia Paper Bag Company in New England, Margaret Knight invented machinery that would do a better job of folding the bottom of square paper bags. She went on to invent other devices, all patented between 1902 and 1915.

For more information on Margaret Knight’s inventions, see her biography, posted on the National Women’s History Museum website.

The illustration above shows the patent design for her paper bag machine. The graphic can be found on a website sponsored by CSU Pomona. All other information about the image is unknown.


Women worked with technology as telephone operators from 1878 through the 1960s. By the year 1900, women made up 80% of telephone operators. This year fell in the middle of a job growth period for women–many of these jobs involving technology.

To read more on women’s technological growth in the workplace, see Christine Bose’s book, Women in 1900: Gateway to the Political Economy of the 20th Century.  

The photo above was taken between 1900 and 1915 of telephone operators in Baker City, OR. It is owned by the Oregon Historical Society. Its catalog number is OrHi75739.