Beautiful and Brilliant:  A Lesson for our Gifted Girls

By Lori Comallie-Caplan 

When I was growing up, both my mother and my father provided me with literature, art, and music created by gifted females.  They gave me great models to help me strive to be the best I could be.  Recently, my father sent me a story about a beautiful and brilliant woman.  I want to share that story with you.

In 1933 there was a scandalous movie starring Hedwick Keisler. Louis B. Mayer described her as the most beautiful woman in the world.  Keisler was married to one of the richest men in Austria, Friedrich Mandl.  He was Austria’s leading arms maker and supplier to Adolf Hitler.  Mandl used Hedwick as a trophy wife, taking her to dinners with fascist leaders in Austria, Italy and Germany.  Keisler described her beauty secret was to “to stand there and look stupid.”  But Keisler was not stupid; she was a math prodigy and excelled at science.  Keisler sat at these dinners that included men such as Mussolini and Hitler, absorbing everything she heard about the technology of wireless weapons.  Keisler’s father was a wealthy Jewish banker and she hated the Nazis.  During the rise of the Nazi regime, Mandl imprisoned Keisler in a castle in Germany.  With help from a maid, Keisler was able to escape in 1937 just prior to Germany’s  annexation of  Austria.  She fled to London, where she met with Louis B. Mayer.  She became one of MGM’s biggest stars. She was a co-star to Clark Gable, Judy Garland, and even Bob Hope. Her first seven of the 20 MGM movies were blockbusters.

She had formulated the idea for a new kind of communications system, optimized for sending coded messages that couldn’t be intercepted. The Allied Forces were using a single-frequency radio control technology. That meant if the enemy could find the appropriate frequency it could intercept the signal, and interfere with the missile’s intended path.  Keisler envisioned a way to change the frequency.  It was a way of encoding a message across a broad area of the wireless spectrum. If one part of the spectrum was intercepted, the message would still get through on one of the other frequencies being used.  She used the technology of George Anthiel, who developed the technology to synchronize melodies across 12 player pianos.  Using this technology, she was able to synchronize the frequency changes between a weapon’s receiver and its transmitter.

Meanwhile, almost no one today knows Hedwig Keisler, one of the great pioneers of wireless communications. Her technology was developed by the U.S. Navy, which has used it ever since.  Her patent sits at the foundation of “spread spectrum technology,” which you use every day when you log on to the internet or use your cell phone. You will continue to use it as we move to long term evolution (LTE) wireless technology. This will provide remarkable increases to wireless speed and quality, by spreading wireless signals across the entire available spectrum. This kind of encoding is only possible using the kind of frequency switching that Hedwig Keisler (who we all know as Heddy Lamar) invented.  Heddy Lamar not only became a major Hollywood star, her name sits on U.S. Patent No. 2,292,387, one of the greatest patents ever issued. 

“Researchers consistently have found that girls with high ability feel compelled to hide their intelligence.” states Linda Silverman. “Essentially, the gifted young woman is faced with a Sophie’s Choice: if she chooses to be true to herself, to honor her drive for achievement and self-actualization, she breaks some unspoken rule and faces disconnection (Gilligan, 1988), taunts and rejection from both male and female peers. If she chooses to give up her dreams, to hold herself back, to redirect her energies into the feminine spheres-preoccupation with boys, clothes, appearance, observing her tone of voice, choice of words and body language, remaking herself to become attractive to the opposite sex – she is accepted and rewarded for her efforts (Silverman, 1995). Since there is little immediate value in choosing achievement over social acceptance, a girl would have to have incredible self-assurance to make that choice.” (Silverman, Linda, Developmental Phases of Social Development, From the Gifted Development Center. Reprinted with permission.)

Anita Gurian gives parents tips to nurture their gifted girls into gifted women:  (Gurian, Anita, Gifted Girls – Many Gifted Girls, Few Eminent Women: Why?)

  • Foster friendships with gifted peers with similar interests. Provide role models of women in traditional and nontraditional careers who have successfully integrated multiple aspects of their lives.
  • Avoid sex-role stereotyping. Encourage criticism of biased depictions of girls and women in the media. As recently as January, 2000, for example, the Barbie personal computer for girls came loaded with a little more than half of the educational software on the companion computer for boys.
  • Encourage independence and risk-taking.
  • Keep in mind that the daughters of mothers who model independent, problem-solving behaviors and decision-making strategies are likely to be successful.
  • Recognize that many families have differing expectations for sons and daughters. Father involvement is important, since research indicates that fathers play an important role in the aspirations of their daughters.

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