Women in Engineering Throughout History

March 24, 2023

Students choosing their popcorn at the Women's History Celebration Booth

In honor of Women's History Month, the GW Engineering Marketing and Communications team hosted a Women's History Celebration booth every Tuesday on the first floor of the Science and Engineering Hall. This event was held to celebrate the contributions of women who left an indelible mark in STEM and pushed the envelope of engineering.

Students traveling from class to class would stop by to grab free popcorn with a women's history fact attached to learn about the achievements of women in engineering throughout history. Women remain underrepresented among engineering and computer science graduates and professionals. Still, these women were driven by their passion for science and technology to become trailblazers and transform the field of engineering.

From these events, students had the opportunity to learn about the following female engineers:

  • Edith Clarke was the first woman to get a master’s in electrical engineering from MIT and the first female ECE Professor in the U.S.

  • Nancy Fitzroy was one of the first female helicopter pilots and a pioneer in mechanical engineering where her contributions in the heat transfer field led to many improvements. She was also the first woman elected president of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).

  • Sally Ride broke the gender barrier in space by becoming the first American woman to go into space on STS-7. Ride remained an advocate for girls and young women in science, math, and technology by founding the company, Sally Ride Science.

  • Lillian Moller Gilbreth was an industrial psychologist, engineer, and mother of 12. Her family life inspired the movie Cheaper by the Dozen and her work gave her the name, “genius in the art of living.”

  • Ada Lovelace is known as the first computer programmer. Her contributions to computer science have been disputed, so October 15th was named Ada Lovelace Day to highlight often overlooked women in math and science.

  • Grace Murray Hopper was a computer pioneer and naval officer who worked on key calculations essential to World War II, developed A.0, the first computer language ‘compiler’ with her team, and was the oldest serving officer in the United States Armed Forces.

  • Lieutenant Colonel Arminta Harness was the first woman engineer in the United State Air Force which put her in a unique position as a trailblazer. Her 24-year career here helped her accomplish many more firsts.

  • Kate Gleason was a self-taught engineer who accomplished being the first woman with no family bank ties to become president of a national bank, designed methods for affordable housing and was unanimously elected as the ASME’s first woman member.

  • Margaret W. ‘Hap’ Brennecke spent 22 years as a research metallurgist before becoming the first female welding engineer to work at the Marshall Space Flight Center.

  • Evelyn Cortez-Diez is a civil engineer with over 25 years of experience at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP). She is also a strong advocate for women in STEM and helped launch the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) Professional Affiliate Group at LADWP.

  • Anousheh Ansari, M.S. ‘92, is an engineer, space explorer, and businesswoman who has co-founded three companies. She made international headlines in 2006 as the first Iranian-American and Muslim woman in space.

  • Hedy Lamarr never stopped using her scientific mind though it was ignored when she began starring in films on the big screen. She is dubbed “the mother of WiFi” for her invention of a communications system that could frequency hop with business partner George Antheil.