10 Female Engineers Who Helped Pave the Way

Engineering remains one of the few industries left where men significantly outnumber women, continuously presenting some pretty gnarly challenges for females attempting to enter into it. Thanks to the steel reserve of many pioneers unafraid to penetrate the traditional “boy’s club” of STEM degrees and careers, some precedents have already been set proving that women offer just as much to the engineering world and, of course, the world as a whole. When overwhelmed and intimidated in any situation, try to find inspiration in the following stories of how much hard work and passion can break for future generations and dreamers.

  1. Mae Jemison

    Because of her impressive background in both chemical engineering and medicine, NASA granted Mae Jemison the honor of serving as the science mission specialist aboard Endeavour in 1992, making her the very first African-American woman in space. Following her resignation from NASA, she flexed her entrepreneurial acumen to launch the Jemison Group, whose goals revolve around discovering practical, daily life applications for advanced and simple technology alike. In addition to her scientific triumphs, she also accomplished plenty as a dancer, actress, and educator – even going on to earn nine honorary doctorates from such institutions as Dartmouth and Princeton. Because Jemison worked professionally in both the arts and the sciences, she often served as an advocate for teaching both with equal emphasis, even finding innovative ways to let lessons overlap.

  2. Eleanor Baum

    The first female president of the American Society for Engineering Education and female dean of an engineering school (Pratt Institute School of Engineering) also served as the head of Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology and in laudable positions with the National Science Foundation’s Engineering Advisory Board and the National Manpower Commission. She devotes much of her career – which launched after completing her PhD at Polytechnic Institute in 1964 – to opening up even more doors for women and minorities, both traditionally unrepresented in the engineering sector. Prior to entering the academic sector, she spent time as an aerospace engineer with General Instrument Corporation and Sperry Rand.

  3. Ruchi Sanghvi

    Facebook’s first female engineer – one of the first 10 hired in 2005 – opened up to Huffington Post about how much she struggled with being the department’s “odd woman out,” unable to fully connect with her male peers. The Carnegie Mellon graduate responsible for the News Feed, Connect, and Platform broke ground for the millennial ladies hoping to break into the heavily XY internet and social and mobile media sectors. Now the co-founder of Cove (which was recently bought out by Dropbox), she continues making strides. Sanghvi rightfully takes pride in her success as a sexual and racial minority in an industry inundated with white males, believing the hurdles ultimately positive.

  4. Nora Stanton Blatch

    In 1905, Nora Stanton Blatch graduated from Cornell as the very first woman to ever receive a degree in civil engineering; shortly thereafter, the American Society of Civil Engineers accepted her as its first female member, though with junior status. After quitting her first job at the New York City Board of Water Supply, she teamed up with husband Lee De Forest to develop and raise awareness of the wireless radio. Their marriage withered when he insisted she cease working upon the birth of their first child, but the ardent suffragette moved out with her daughter and took up a position with Radley Steel Construction instead. Blatch certainly proves that women are more than capable of balancing motherhood with a demanding engineering career.

  5. Lillian Moller Gilbreth

    Brown University, RI awarded this efficiency and management pioneer the world’s first industrial psychology degree; a doctorate, no less, at a time when women still stood as quite a rarity in higher education, not just graduate school. Along with her husband Frank Bunker Gilbreth, the shape of industrial engineering changed permanently thanks to inquiries into time and person management, efficiency, motion study, fatigue, ergonomics and other human factors. For her myriad valuable contributions, the prestigious National Academy of Engineers inducted her as its first female member in 1965.

  6. Elizabeth Bragg

    Though she never actually entered the engineering profession, preferring to keep herself tending to her home and family instead, this woman shattered one of the field’s very first glass ceilings. In 1876, University of California at Berkeley awarded her a civil engineering degree, making Elizabeth Bragg the first known woman in the world to ever do so.

  1. Elmina T. Wilson

    After Elizabeth Bragg proved it possible for women to earn engineering degrees at the baccalaureate level, Elima T. Wilson went on to do the same for the master’s. She received her diploma in civil engineering from Iowa State University in 1894, and went on to serve as one of the two preeminent women in structural engineering alongside sister Alda. Among the most notable projects she participated in were the very first raised steel water tower west of the Mississippi (in Ames, Iowa) and Manhattan’s famous Flatiron Building, which she helped design while working at Purdy and Henderson.

  2. Ada Lovelace

    Computer science and engineering exist today because of Ada Lovelace’s work with lifelong inventing partner Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine. As an excruciatingly adept mathematician, translator, and scientist, she developed the world’s first computer program. Based mostly on algebra, she and Babbage bounced revisions back and forth until her death at age 36. Because of their combined efforts, however, and entire industry – one obviously more than a mite influential well over a century later – sprang up.

  3. Leena Gade

    Audi edged out rival Piaget in the 2011 Le Mans despite two crashes, stunning racing aficionados with a seemingly impossible come-from-behind victory. The team’s amazing win was helmed by race engineer Leena Gade, who wound up becoming the very first woman to ever win the prestigious competition – even though it happened to be the 79th event. She turned her lifelong passion for Formula One into an engineering degree (emphasis on automotive and aerospace), which she then parlayed into a sparkling, groundbreaking career at Jaguar, then Audi.

  4. Ellen Swallow Richards

    Her major may have been chemistry – in fact, she was the first American woman at MIT and the first to ever receive a degree in the field – but this fierce feminist stands as a pioneer in environmental engineering and home economics alike. Ellen Swallow Richards’ research while working at the Lawrence Experiment Station directly led to her native Massachusetts establishing America’s first sewage treatment facilities and water quality regulations. The Massachusetts State Board of Health named her a consulting chemist thanks to her contributions to public health.

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