Engineering & The Women That Shaped The Field

March is Women’s History Month and we would like to take a moment honor some of history’s most prominent female engineers. There have been many women before us that helped define a disciple and engineer change. We do not often stop to think about the technology they developed, but these women made incredible contributions to society and deserve credit for leaving a lasting mark. While a list of prominent female engineers could be pages long, we decided to focus on a handful of pioneers.

Engineering Pioneers

Below are five women that made in enormous impact on the engineering profession…

  • Martha Coston. Developed and secured the patent (in 1859) for signal flares. Her three-light design is an example of timely and effective product engineering and is said to have helped the North win the war. This technology is still used by the U.S. Navy today.
  • Grace Murray Hopper. Programmed some of the first computers. During her lifetime as a leader in the field of software development concepts, she contributed to the transition from primitive programming techniques to the use of sophisticated compilers. She believed that “we’ve always done it that way” was not necessarily a good reason to continue to do so.
  • Helen Augusta Blanchard. One of the greatest inventors of the industrial eraholding 28 patents and often referred to as “Lady Edison”.
  • Ellen Henrietta Swallow. The first woman accepted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and earned her second B.S. there in 1873. A pioneer in industrial and environmental chemistry who went on to teach at the MIT Woman’s Laboratory.
  • Emily Warren Roebling. Responsible for the day-to-day construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. The dedication and hard work put into the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge by Emily Warren Roebling was noted by Congressman Abram S. Hewitt at the dedication ceremonies prior to the opening of the bridge. Emily was the first to cross the Brooklyn Bridge after it opened on May 24, 1883.

There are no doubt many more women who have helped propel the engineering discipline forward. Design News recently published a piece, 10 of History’s Greatest Women Inventors You Should Know, and many of these women did not get credit at the time for their work, but their inventions have shaped technologies that have changed our lives and the course of history.

Encouraging Girls to Pursue Engineering Careers

It is no secret that STEM careers are increasing at a rapid rate while the qualified applicant pool is relatively stagnant. We need more women to engage in engineering studies and become leaders in the industry. Breaking down the negative stereotypes associated with engineering and encouraging students to pursue the discipline are just a couple of the most basic ways in which we can help girls become excited about the field. Here are a few ways to make engineering come “alive” for students…

  • Expose them to women that have pioneered in the engineering profession.
  • Engage in family, or classroom, activities that spark curiosity and require creative solutions. A simple Google search leads to many results on engaging introductory engineering activities.
  • Empower and motivate them to take challenging math and science courses in high school and college.
  • Share your experience of the engineering profession with them. Many students have never met an engineer, so this is a chance to talk about what your job entails and why it is a fulfilling career.

For additional ideas, check out our Encouraging Our Future Engineers & Innovators post.


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April 2024

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