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5 Women Engineers Who Transformed History

Women engineers in history

The many contributions of women over the years deserve recognition beyond Women’s History Month. With that in mind, this post spotlights five women engineers who transformed history. They have left their mark on the engineering field in different ways, each significant in their way, as you’ll see below.

5 Women Engineers Who Changed History

You might have heard of one or two of these ladies. Or, they might all be new to you! Each one is inspiring, with key accomplishments that have changed the world. Here they are, in no particular order:

Katherine Johnson
Katherine Johnson. Photo via Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

1. Katherine Johnson (1918-2020)

This American was a lover of Math from young age. Katherine Johnson‘s calculations helped NASA to ultimately put an astronaut into orbit around our Planet. With a BS in Mathematics and French, she had the educational background to purse what she loved. She contributed to the math that described an orbital spaceflight in which the landing of the spacecraft was outlined. She was first woman in the Flight Research Division at NASA to receive credit as an research report author.

Katherine was then called upon on 1962 to work through computer equations by hand that related to the trajectory of the John Glenn’s orbital mission. Among her most notable contributions was helping to calculate what would be crucial to synching the Lunar Module (Project Abollo) with the lunar-orbiting Command and Service Module.

Yvonne Clark
Yvonne Clark. Photo via Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

2. Yvonne Clark (1929-2019)

This “First Lady of Engineering” was the first woman to earn a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Howard University (1951), graduating with honors. She received a full scholarship as the only female majoring in mechanical engineering.

She was the first Black American woman to enter the Society of Women Engineers a year after graduation and went on to receive many honors from this association. As a summer job, she was a NASA aerospace engineer, helping in the ’60s to fix Saturn V’s rocket booster issues. She also helped at NASA Houston by developing the container for the moon rock samples that Neil Armstrong would use to take rocks back to Earth.

Alice Perry
Alice Perry. Photo via Wikimedia Commons (via Public Domain)

3. Alice Perry (1885-1969)

In Europe, Alice Perry was among the first women to earn a degree in engineering. In Ireland she was the first woman to graduate with an engineering degree. Today, you can find engineering degrees online as a flexible way to get the schooling needed to excel in this field.

She followed in her father’s footsteps as County Surveyor, and later moved onto the role of Lady Factory Inspector, which involved monitoring laws relating to women working in industrial environments. Her legacy inspires in STEM by pushing the glass ceiling in an industry that only included men before her in Ireland.

Elsie MacGill
Elsie MacGill. Photo via Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

4. Elsie MacGill (1905-1980)

A notable trailblazer in Canada was Elsie MacGill. She was the first woman to graduate in electrical engineering in Canada. From there, she went on to earn a master’s in aeronautical engineering.

She designed the training aircraft Maple Leaf Trainer II, which was a training aircraft. Later, she helped improve production for a World War II fighter aircraft called Hawker Hurricane. The media titled her “Queen of the Hurricanes” as it was so unique for a woman to be in her industry of choice. Perhaps her greatest contribution was redesigning WWI Hurricane aircraft to fly in wintertime.

Henrietta Vansittart
Portrait of Henrietta Vansittart. Image via Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

5. Henrietta Vansittart (1833-1883)

This British engineer was also an inventor. Henrietta Vansittart held the patent for the Lowe-Vansittart propeller, which enabled ships to move faster. There is no evidence in the history books of her having a formal education, so it is likely she gained her knowledge and skills from her dad, who worked with screw propellers.

Henrietta Vansittart was an engineer and patent holder for over two decades. The propeller she invented was quicker, more efficient, and had less vibration than the models before. It received numerous awards, including the gold medal at the Adelaide Exhibition of 1881. She excelled at combining engineering and business.

On Women in Engineering History

This list is not exhaustive by any means! Other incredible women include Lillian Gilbreth, Patricia Bath, Ada Lovelace, Emily Warren Roebling, and Mary Jackson, to name just a few.

Women’s contributions in history are coming to light more and more. Sharing their life stories not only respects what they did but also inspires us and future generations to create our own paths and be more confident.

Does the field of engineering interest you? Why or why not? Also, had you heard of any of these women before?

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