To celebrate International Women In Engineering Day, we at SFK Academy wanted to share our top five female engineering heroes who did not hesitate to push the boundaries about what women could or could not do.
Edith Clarke is the very first female engineer. Born in 1883, she created the Clarke calculator for graphing electrical properties. She used her inheritance from her deceased parents to attend college and study mathematics.
She created the Clarke calculator after graduating. Before that, problems were solved manually. Her invention saved a lot of time and effort. Despite her talents, it took her several attempts to finally be hired at General Electric to eventually become the first female engineer.
One of the better-known engineering heroes, Ada Lovelace was basically the very first computer programmer, more than 100 years before the invention of the computer. Born in the 19th century, this mathematician is basically the very first computer programmer, more than 100 years before the invention of the computer.
Even though she was Lord Byron’s only legitimate child, she was rejected by her father at 5 weeks old. Her mother then did everything she could to keep her away from poetry and other artistic interests and made her pursue mathematics and logic.
Once an adult, she met Charles Babbage, a mathematician and mechanical engineer who was working on the Analytical Engine, the first mechanical computer. She became obsessed with the machine and started to see beyond what it could do and eventually found other purposes than mathematics.
Hedy Lamarr was both an incredible actress and a brilliant female inventor. When she wasn’t busy playing the part of a femme fatale besides Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy, she devised a method of encrypting signals to prevent enemy spies to listen to sensitive pieces of information. Without her, there will be no wireless communication in our modern world.
Being the stunning woman that she is, she fought hard for her mind to be as recognised as her beauty. For a long time, no one took her seriously in the engineering community. During WWII, she invented a way for the command signal to jump around on different radio frequencies, preventing anyone from following it.
The Navy chose not to use her invention at the time, and it was dismissed for a while until humanity started using wireless communication devices such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. A mini-series featuring Gal Gadot about the life of Hedy Lamarr is currently in production.
You may recognise the name Mary Jackson from the 2016 film Hidden Figures which celebrates Jackson’s ground-breaking contributions to NASA, where she became the first Black female engineer. She was one of a small group of African American women who worked as aeronautical engineers, called “human computers” at NASA during the Space Age. Along with serving a vital role in the development of the space program, she helped other women and minorities advance their careers, advising them to study and take extra courses to increase their chances for promotion.
In June 2020, NASA renamed its DC Headquarters to The Mary W. Jackson NASA Headquarters to honour her trailblazing achievements.
Emily Warren Roebling
Emily Roebling never planned on becoming an engineer, that’s why she is often called an accidental engineer. However, she accomplished what could only be described as a huge engineering feat for that time.
When Washington Roebling, the chief Engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge, fell ill in 1872, his wife Emily Warren Roebling took over his duties. For 11 years she relayed messages, oversaw the day-to-day activities, and gained extensive knowledge of engineering. When the bridge opened in 1883, Emily Roebling rode across it with President Chester Arthur. It was said that the bridge was “an everlasting monument to the self-sacrificing devotion of a woman and of her capacity for that higher education from which she has been too long disbarred.”