In honour of the Queen’s birthday, we thought we’ll revisit history and highlight some of the most famous female engineers of our time.
Emily Warren Roebling (September 23, 1843 – February 28, 1903)
Emily Warren Roebling was responsible for one of the USA’s most famous landmarks – the Brooklyn Bridge. Her husband, Washington Roebling was a civil engineer and the Chief Engineer during the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. He unfortunately succumbed to caisson disease and the task of completing the bridge fell upon Emily. She was able to relay information between her sick husband and the workers. But she also studied intensively (and learned from her husband) and soon developed an extensive knowledge of strength of materials, stress analysis, cable construction, and calculating catenary curves. For the next 14 years Emily oversaw the bridge project, dealing with politicians, competing engineers, and all those associated with the work on the bridge. The Brooklyn Bridge was finally completed in 1883 and Emily Roebling was the first person to cross it by carriage.
Elmina Wilson (September 29, 1870 – June 4, 1918)
Elmina Wilson is known as the “first lady of structural engineering”. She was the first woman to receive a Bachelor of Civil Engineering degree at Iowa State University (ISU), and the first one to complete her master’s degree in the field. Professor Anson Marston, a man of progressive values who was also the Dean of Engineering at ISU became her mentor. She collaborated with him to build the 168-foot-tall Ames, Iowa, water tower, the first raised steel tower west of the Mississippi.
Nora Stanton Barney (September 30, 1883 – January 18, 1971)
Nora Stanton was the first female member of the American Society of Civil Engineers. She was born in Basingstoke, England on September 30, 1883. As a small child, her family moved to New York. In 1905, she was the first woman to graduate from Cornell University with a Civil Engineering degree. That same year, she became the first female member, with junior status, of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and began work for the New York City Board of Water Supply. Nora, like her grandmother Elizabeth Cady Stanton, was involved in work for world peace and women’s rights. In 1915, she became the president of the Women’s Political Union. She participated in the efforts for a federal Equal Rights Amendment. In her later years, she remained politically active, writing pamphlets such as Woman as Human Beings and World Peace Through a Peoples Parliament.
Olive Dennis (November 20, 1885 – November 5, 1957)
Olive Dennis was the first woman to become a member of the American Railway Engineering Association. She was one of the first women to obtain a Civil Engineering degree from Cornell University. She strived hard and eventually began working for the Baltimore and Ohio (B & O) Railroad. Since half of the railroad’s passengers were women, it was felt that a woman would be better suited to handle engineering upgrades in service. Thus Olive Dennis was made the railroad’s first “service engineer” and assigned the responsibility of improving passenger service. In a career spanning over three decades, she worked hard to make travelling as comfortable as possible for the passengers.
Elsie Eaves (May 5, 1898 – March 27, 1983)
Elsie Eaves was the first woman to be a full member of the American Society of Civil Engineers. In 1920, at the age of 22, she graduated from the University of Colorado with a Civil Engineering degree. After graduating from college, she worked for the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads, the Colorado State Highway Department, and the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. In 1945, she became the manager of Business News and continued there until she retired in 1963. After retiring, she became an advisor to the National Commission on Urban Affairs on the subject of housing costs. She also advised the International Executive Service Corps about construction costs in Iran. In 1957, she was the first woman to join the American Association of Cost Engineers, where she eventually became the first woman to be awarded an Honorary Life Membership.
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