A potted history of women in engineering
Women have been an integral part of engineering before it was even an occupation. Here are just a handful of those who made their mark in history.
Hypatia of Alexandria (350 or 370–415 AD)
The fourth-century Greek philosopher and mathematician is credited with inventing the hydrometer. Though little remains of her own work, she is regularly referenced in other works by contemporary writers, including Christian scholar Socrates of Constantinople, who describes her as making “such attainments in literature and science, as to far surpass all the philosophers of her own time.”
Sarah “Tabitha” Babbit (1784–1853)
Tabitha, an American toolmaker and inventor, is believed to have invented the first circular saw for use in a saw mill. As she watched a pair of men using a two-man whipsaw to cut lumber, she realised that half of their motion went to waste. The first saw she created, which she hooked up to a water-powered arm, is on display in Albany, New York.
Sarah Guppy (1770–1852)
The mother of British engineering, Sarah Guppy had several patents relating to bridge construction, which were well-respected amongst her fellow engineers, including Thomas Telford, whom she allowed to utilise her patented suspension bridge foundations for free. She was friends with Isambard Kingdom Brunel and provided ideas and support during the construction of the Great Western Railway.
Ada Lovelace (1815–1852)
The daughter of Lord Byron, Lovelace was privately educated in mathematics and became famous for her collaboration with Charles Babbage. Her assistance and insight were fundamental to the development of Babbage’s analytical engine, and she has gone on to be remembered as the first computer programmer.
Emily Warren Roebling
Roebling’s husband was the chief engineer during the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge until he fell ill due to decompression sickness. At this point, Emily took up her husband’s duties at the bridge, teaching herself the engineering necessities of materials, catenary curve calculation, and cable construction, among much more. She is recognised as managing the construction of this iconic landmark and was the first person to cross it during its opening ceremony.
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