Honoring incredible female engineers – it’s National Engineers Week!


Engineering is still largely perceived as a male-dominated field, but women have pioneered groundbreaking inventions and taken large strides since the early nineteenth century.

Who was the first American woman to become a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers?


Nora Stanton Blatch Barney

Nora Stanton Blatch Barney was born in Hampshire, England in 1883.  She studied Latin and mathematics at the Horace Mann School in New York, beginning in 1897, returning to England in the summers. The family moved to the United States in 1902. Nora attended Cornell University, graduating in 1905 as the first woman to earn a degree in any type of engineering in the United States; her degree was in civil engineering.

In the same year, she was accepted as a junior member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), and began work for the New York City Board of Water Supply. However, she was later refused the Society’s Associate Membership.

Following the examples set by her mother and grandmother, Nora also became active in the growing women’s suffrage movement.

In 1919, Nora married Morgan Barney, a marine architect. Their daughter, Rhoda Barney Jenkins, was born in New York on July 12, 1920; she grew up to be an architect and social activist, like her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother before her.

Check out this short list of incredible inventions by female engineers and inventors!

Who is the first black woman to graduate from John Hopkins School of Electrical Engineering?

judy-smith-342x414Judy L. Smith

Judy has succeeded in making amazing strides on behalf of African American women. The inspiring woman, who became John Hopkins first African American woman to graduate from John Hopkins School of Electrical Engineering in 1979, has recently been appointed to the Women in Aerospace (WIA) Board of Directors.

Smith received a degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and a Masters of Business Administration Degree from the University of Baltimore. She has over 30 years working to support agencies within the Department of Defense.

Today Judy is Vice President at Exelis, a global aerospace, defense and information solutions company where she researches and identifies business opportunities for the company’s Information Systems division. Previously Smith took on leadership roles at Northrop Grumman, Lockeheed Martin, GTW and Booz Allen Hamilton.

This woman invented the zig-zag stitch on sewing machines and received 28 patents.


Helen Augusta Blanchard

Helen was a busy woman, over the course of her life she received 28 patents between 1873 and 1915. This American inventor was born in Portland, Maine on 25 October, 1840.

After developing techniques for zigzag stitching and overseaming, Blanchard moved to Philadelphia, where she established the Blanchard Overseaming Company to market her inventions in the late 1870s or early 1880s.

Helen Blanchard patent

She also founded the Blanchard Hosiery Machine Company in 1882.

In the early 1890s Helen moved to New York and continued to patent a variety of inventions, including a pencil sharpener (seen left) and a hat sewing machine. Click on the image to your left to see a large version of Helen’s patent drawing.

She was the first female Presidential appointee in the U.S. Department of Commerce and first female VP in the auto industry. Who is she?

Scanned at the American Institute of Physics, Emilio Segre Visual Archives.Betsy Ancker-Johnson

Betsy was born on April 29, 1927. Betsy Ancker-Johnson attended Wellesley College and later a graduate school in Germany. In 1953, She received her Ph.D. in physics. It was always her dream to be a physicist.

The 87-year old is known for her research into instabilities that can occur in plasmas in solids, and for her invention of a gigacycle range signal generatorusing semiconductor materials in magnetic and electric fields.

With this achievement behind her, in 1973, Ancker-Johnson became the first female Presidential appointee in the U.S. Department of Commerce when she took on the role of Assistant Secretary for Science and Technology. She served until 1977 during the Nixon/Ford administration.

Betsy-Ancker-Johnson-engineerBetsy moved on to General Motors where she was named Vice President of General Motors’ Environmental Activity Staff in 1979. This marked the first time a woman was named to the position of vice president in the U.S. auto industry.

She is also the fourth woman elected to the National Academy of Engineering.

Being elected to the National Academy of Engineering or NAE is one of the highest honors that can be given to any engineer. To date, 2,330 male engineers have been elected to the NAE since 1964 compared to the only 37 women engineers that have been elected. Will you be the next woman elected to the NAE?

Who was the first woman engineer ever to be featured on the cover of WIRED magazine?

wired-20110316-074410Limor “Ladyada” Fried

Limor  is the first woman engineer to grace the cover of WIRED Magazine. WIRED is a key publication in the tech world. In her cover debut, she is posing in the now iconic “Rosie the Riveter” pose, or “Yes We Can” poster style.

Limor is an American electrical engineer and owner of the electronics hobbyist company Adafruit Industries. Her goal was to create the best place online for learning electronics and making the best designed products for makers of all ages and skill levels.

She is influential in the open-source hardware community, having participated in the first Open Source Hardware Summit and the drafting of the Open Source Hardware definition, and is known for her moniker ladyada, an homage to LadyAda Lovelace.

Limor was also awarded Entrepreneur magazine’s 2012 Entrepreneur of the year!


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