Pretty, sexy, and smart

One misstep of modern feminism is that we keep trying to make women choose between being smart and being pretty; we’ve all but stopped acknowledging that someone can be both.hedy1

I’d like to present a new role model for today’s young ladies: Hedy Lamarr. If you’re under 50, you’ve probably never heard of her, but back in her day all of America knew her name.

Hedy was a Hollywood starlet from the mid-30s through the 50s. She starred opposite some of the great actors of the time – Clark Gable, Charles Boyer, Spenser Tracy, Jimmy Stewart. She was also one of the early pin-up girls, and it’s not hard to see why her picture was found everywhere – she was voluptuous, beautiful, and fun.

One of her famous quotes was:

“Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.”

hedy3You’ve got to love a girl who can be rich and famous and not take it all too seriously. But you’re probably wondering why any of this makes her a good role model.

Turns out, Hedy had an impressive brain, too.

At a dinner party in 1940, she met a composer, George Anthiel, who was talking about the German submarines. They were so difficult to hit that the Allies were working on radio-controlled torpedoes. But this was inherently flawed, as it proved to be just as easy for the enemy to block the radio signals as it was to send them in the first place.

Hedy had an idea, jotted it down on a cocktail napkin, and shared it with George.

Hedy, not Hedley

The concept was called “Secret Communication System” but is better known today as “frequency hopping.” Both the sender and the receiver would rapidly jump between dozens of random frequencies, thus ensuring their communication couldn’t be intercepted and interfered with.

By 1942, Hedy and George had secured a patent and granted the Navy rights to use it.

hedy-newsThe idea lived far beyond the German subs, though. Thought the military still uses this system for missile guidance, the biggest impact is that her concept is the basis of all wireless technology.

If you’re reading this on a smartphone or over a wi-fi internet connection, it’s all because of Hedy.

So what do you think? Did being beautiful and elegant detract from one of the bright engineering minds of the century?


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