Ten facts to know about Ruby Payne-Scott: the feminist that the world forgot

It’s well-known that women tend to be overlooked in a historical context. Some ideas that are brought into the mainstream were often thought of years beforehand, particularly by women. A New York Times series, Overlooked, showcases the lives of women who history has turned a blind eye to.

Ruby Payne-Scott was an extraordinary woman-- she fought for the rights of women around her, developed technology that was very advanced for the time being and continued to research ideas that led to what would be the groundwork for modern day advancement.

1. She basically discovered space

Okay, this may be  a little dramatic, but she did do a lot of research that lead to really interesting discoveries in space. Her work led to a new field of science called, “Radio Astronomy.” Which is, listening to the radio emissions from space objects. She also helped lay paths to understanding black holes, solar storms and electrical grids on Earth.

2. She was super smart, obviously

After graduating at 16 from the prestigious Sydney Girls High School, she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics from the University of Sydney. Fun fact: she was only the third woman to do so.

3. She was a school teacher

Because it was hard for women to find employment during the time Scott was graduating, she took on the role of a teacher until landing her first job in the field of science.

4. She was an activist

Scott was a radical feminist and an environmental conservationist. She spent much of her free time protesting the Vietnam war and fighting for women’s rights. Because of her communist beliefs, her co-workers gave her the nickname, “Red Ruby.”

5. She kept her marriage a secret to keep her job.

Because women in public service were basically forced to quit their jobs after they got married; Scott and her co-workers kept her secret from 1944 to late 1950. It was discovered when her department was restructured.

6. Her work was respected

Before she was fired in 1950, Scott’s work was highly respected. Her boss, J.L. Pawsey was said to not make a final decision on a topic without consulting Scott first. She helped to create a device, “swept-lobe interferometer,” which basically was used to listen to waves in the sky. This method led to Martin Ryle winning the 1974 Nobel Prize in Physics.

7. She was a mother

She and her husband, William, had two children who followed in their mother’s footsteps of achievement and became pretty successful throughout Australia. Her son, Peter Gavin Hall, became a very popular statistician. Her daughter, Fiona Margaret Hall, is an artist that is well-known. Scott left her position to raise her children after finding out she was pregnant.

8. She helped with war efforts

During World War II, Scott worked for the government as a physicist. She worked towards enabling Radar, which was a little behind schedule in Australia, to help the Allied forces track Japanese fighter planes. She quickly was able to differentiate between the planes and other objects like ships and help track them through nightfall and rain. Imagine getting to say that your mom was that cool.

9. She died in 1981

After battling Dementia, she died at 68 years old. The last years of her life were spent struggling to remember who she was and the accomplishments she had. She was three days shy of her 69th birthday.

10. She never gave up

Although she was fired from her job, she kept fighting for the right to return. She wrote letters to the head of her department and others within her job. Even though she was forced to leave. A few months later she was hired back on “temporary status” and given a raise to keep her earnings equal to her male co-workers.

Although Scott just wanted to have equal rights and get to work in a profession she loved, she had to continuously fight. She went without recognition and credit for her ideas were often given to others. Scott may have been overlooked throughout the years, but at least she will now be remembered for her incredible work as a physicist and as a feminist who helped lead the path for other equal rights movements to come.