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Female engineers from history: Edith Clarke

There may have been a prejudice against female engineers in recent times, and as a result, there may be many bright young women who feel engineering is not for them. This is a huge shame, as many women are turning down fantastic opportunities in a field that is predicted to have a skills shortage in the coming years.

Reaping the rewards

Despite many women presently feeling engineering is not a route they wish to take, there are certainly some fascinating female engineers from history who took on prejudice and went against the grain – and also reaped the rewards of a rewarding and successful career.

Edith Clarke

One such woman is the American engineer Edith Clarke (1883 – 1959). Clarke studied mathematics as a child, then went on to study Civil Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. So determined was Edith Clarke to be a success in the field of engineering that she even combined her day job at the American Telephone and Telegraph Company with electrical engineering classes at Columbia University in the evenings.

Clarke earned an M.S in electrical engineering from MIT in 1919, despite having trouble finding work after graduating (due to the attitudes of the time), her career is littered with achievements. While working for General Electric she invented the ‘Clarke calculator’, a device that increased the efficiency of electric current and voltage equation-solving tenfold. She was the first woman to deliver a speech at the American Institute of Engineers’ annual general meeting, and she won the Best Regional Paper Prize and Best National Paper Prize from the AIEE. She then joined the University of Texas at Austin and became the first ever professor in her field in the US.

Major honours

Clarke was also the recipient of several major honours for her work in electrical engineering. She was the first woman to achieve professional status in the prestigious Tau Beta Pi honours society, she was the recipient of the Society of Women Engineers’ lifetime achievement award in 1954. Her influence in the engineering world is felt to this day, and she was posthumously inducted into the US National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2015.

If you’re inspired by the story of Edith Clarke and feel you could walk in her footsteps, why not contact the TTE for more information on its apprenticeships?

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