THE ICON: Ruth Benerito
THE LEGACY: The easy description of Ruth Benerito is “the woman who invented wrinkle-free cotton” — a role she downplayed, incidentally, humbly insisting she was merely part of a team that, building upon previous research, perfected a process in their New Orleans lab that had been the subject of experimentation for decades. Less open to debate is her stature as a gifted scientist who bucked both the odds and gender stereotypes to forge a lasting legacy in the field of science at a time — the 1950s — in which few women were encouraged, or allowed, to do so. But Benerito persisted, building a career that would see her earn more than 50 patents and be inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. In addition to being credited with “saving” the cotton industry amid the rise of synthetic textiles, Benerito would blaze a trail for generations of young female scientists to follow — and in wrinkle-free lab coats.
THE ARTIST: Connie Kittok
THE INSPIRATION: “As unusual as it was for a woman of her time to earn a Ph.D. in the hard sciences, it was rarer still for one to go into textile science, then a world of clangorous mills and swaggering men. She more than held her own.” — The New York Times, in its 2013 obituary for Ruth Benerito