10 Women Who Broke New Ground in Engineering


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Emily Warren Roebling
Emily Warren Roebling would have delighted in the sight of the Brooklyn Bridge celebrating its 125 anniversary in May 2008.
Emily Warren Roebling would have delighted in the sight of the Brooklyn Bridge celebrating its 125 anniversary in May 2008.
Jemal Countess/Wire Image/Getty Images

How many lawyers did it take to finish building the Brooklyn Bridge? Just one, Emily Warren Roebling (1843-1903). Although Roebling did not hold an engineering degree, but instead a law degree from New York University, she is famous for stepping in as an engineering manager of sorts and ensuring that the design work begun by her father-in-law and husband reached completion.

When Roebling's husband became too ill to work on the bridge after the death of his father, Roebling managed the project by taking extensive notes and communicating goals to the workman and financiers, while becoming self-taught in all aspects of civil and construction engineering. When the completion of the bridge appeared to be stalling and there was talk of replacing her husband as head engineer, Roebling defended the project and its leadership to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Her appeal was accepted and she was dubbed by some as the "silent builder" of the Brooklyn Bridge as it stands today [source: ASCE].

Author's Note: 10 Women Who Broke New Ground in Engineering

Writing about these accomplished women reminded me of something surprising I learned about architecture and engineering years ago. Architects often have this glamorous reputation as being busy with the business of designing buildings and seeing them through to completion, when really, very few architects ever design anything that actually gets built. Engineering is similar in that most engineers do the background work and planning in very specialized areas, and very few conceive an entire dam, bridge or infrastructure project. You would really have to love calculating and solving problems for the sake of pure engineering to choose it as a career, because it's really a team operation, with most members in the background their entire lives.

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Sources

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