Female Engineers in Our Past: Emily Roebling

Female Engineers in Our Past: Emily Roebling

Females have long made technological progressions and yet they have been overshadowed in our past. Its time we put the spotlight on women who have made transformational advances in technology.

Emily Roebling (1843-1903) was an engineer, businesswoman and American socialite. She was educated at Georgetown Visitation Monastery in Washington DC. Here she studied a variety of subjects including algebra, French, grammar and rhetoric making her extremely well- educated.

In 1865, Emily married Washington Roebling, who was the chief engineer of Brooklyn Bridge. During his time working on this project Washington contracted caisson disease, otherwise known as ‘the bends’. This was a decompression sickness caused by changing air pressure and not uncommon on bridge- building sites at the time. Washington stated, ‘I thought I would succumb, but I had a strong tower to lean upon, my wife, a woman of infinite tact and wisest counsel.’

Washington’s belief in Emily’s abilities was not misplaced. She was a messenger, secretary and engineer throughout the long construction of the bridge which took fourteen years. Congressman Abram Hewitt recognised Emily’s efforts as, ‘An everlasting monument to the self-sacrificing devotion of woman.’ Thus, her efforts resulted in the creation of the longest span suspension bridge and the first to be built on steel cables. She was also the first person to cross the bridge – carrying a rooster with her for good luck! Thus, by taking over over her husband’s responsibilities the construction of Brooklyn Bridge was made possible.

Emily Roebling is just one of the many females in our past that challenged gender discrimination. Today, women across the globe are following in the footsteps of Emily Roebling showing that engineering is accessible to all.

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