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10 Women Who Broke New Ground in Engineering


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Ellen Henrietta Swallow Richards

It is no exaggeration to say that modern civilization wouldn't be thriving without good sanitation. Dating back well before the Romans started modernizing plumbing and sewage systems, mankind has had to tackle the issue of clean water and safe food. Ellen Henrietta Swallow Richards (1842-1911) was the first woman to graduate from MIT, and not just in her discipline, chemistry, but in the history of the institution. She served in public health, sanitary engineering, mining engineering and chemistry, but Richards is best known as the founder of home economics.

Maybe our modern concept of home economics is more about "keeping house," but Richards was instrumental in teaching and spreading the word about safe food practices, healthy and affordable meal planning, and being more efficient in taking care of a home and family. She also advocated for serving lunches in schools and for teaching home economics in public classrooms. Richards had a mind for science and a passion for those who work at home [source: ASCE].


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