As the deadline approaches for nominations for 2019’s Young Ham Of the Year, you may not be aware of the fine tradition of geek girls who have pioneered their way in this field.  For the uninitiated, “Young Lady” or “YL”, is the nickname given to women who operate on amateur radio, also known as ham radio.  While this terminology is largely criticized for being archaic and patronizing, it should probably be noted that a male operator is referred to in perhaps equally unflattering terms: “OM”, or “Old Man”.  Linguistics aside, women have been pushing the boundaries in ham radio from as early as 1910, and future generations have much to offer the medium. To create the female spacewalkers of the future (albeit when their spacesuits are ready), today’s girls need to take science literally into their own hands. Ham radio is a great place to start.

Parkin the Pioneer

Perhaps the ultimate geek girl of ham radio was Gladys Kathleen Parkin.  With an early interest in radio from the age of 5, Parkin had received her first amateur radio license by the age of 9, building herself a 250 watt transmitter along the way.  At the age of 15, over 100 years ago, she was featured on the cover of “Electrical Experimenter”, speaking passionately about her subject, despite her young age.  Fortunately, today’s advances in ham radio tech mean you don’t have to build your own, but there are always projects for the more ambitious out there.

Love and friendship

Another notable pioneer in the field of ham radio was Clara Reger, who received her call sign in 1933.  Reger was famed for her exceptional Morse Code skills, most notably winning the Edison Award for teaching a young boy with no arms to send Morse Code messages with his feet.  Reger also created a signature salutation for women everywhere; 33, meaning love sealed with friendship. Through this simple greeting, Reger created a kinship across the airwaves for women everywhere.  

21st Century Wireless Women

Women have continued to make strides in ham radio in more modern times.  As the Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky,  is not only the first African-American woman to hold statewide office in Kentucky, but she also holds a degree in industrial engineering, served seven years in the US Air Force as a computer systems officer, and is a licensed ham radio operator.  Various sisterhoods for women in ham radio have been set up to support and encourage today’s Young Ladies so that it remains a thriving and relevant hobby.

Tuning into the future

Becoming a ham radio operator is a great way to gain practical hands-on STEM learning.  It also opens up a community, both locally and globally through the networks and sisterhoods available.  You will need to apply for an amateur license before you can get on the air, but plenty of information is available to help you get started.  

From the nervous novice to the confident call sign operator, ham radio encourages the development of technical knowledge, communication and practical skills.  For girls with a love of science and technology, it’s an amazing opportunity to connect with others who share that passion. Get started today and who knows, you could find yourself on the Young Ham nominee list in future.

Betty Bugle