Famous female engineers: celebrating International Women’s Day!

International Women’s Day is on March 8th. Celebrated across the UK and around the world, it is a great time to highlight the many contributions women have made to science and engineering over the years.

Often without necessarily getting the credit they deserve.

Here are just some of the inspiring female trailblazers who led the way in having scientific and engineering jobs – sometimes before those jobs even technically existed:

Famous women of STEM

1) Sarah Guppy

Sarah Guppy should be far better known than she is – especially in Bristol.

A productive inventor, one of her key contributions to engineering was the development of a safe piling system for bridge foundations – used in the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

Guppy also held a whole range of patents. These included inventions for household gadgets – such as an exercise bed and an egg-cooking coffee urn – as well as more practical devices, such as one designed to keep the keels of ships free from barnacles.

2) Emily Roebling

Another female engineer known for her role in bridge building, Emily Roebling was a major contributor to the successful completion of the Brooklyn Bridge in the 1870s and 1880s.

Her husband was the original Chief Engineer on the project. But when he became seriously ill, Roebling took over project management.

Technically, she was only the “liaison” between her sick husband and the rest of the team. Yet it was she who actually did all of the technical work of stress analysis, construction calculations and so on.

It’s not exactly how modern project manager recruitment works! But, in Roebling, the Brooklyn Bridge project found someone with all of the skills necessary to bring the project through to completion.

3) Stephanie Kwolek

Stephanie Kwolek was one of the first women ever to have a professional chemical engineer job. As a research chemist, she held 17 patents and was responsible for several major technological breakthroughs. Her best-known was the material known as Kevlar.

This synthetic material is used to produce safety helmets, outdoor equipment and cables as well as bulletproof vests. Today, thousands of people – everyone from outdoor climbers to soldiers to engineers – have Kwolek to thank for their continued safety.

4) Radia Perlman

Without Radia Perlman, the modern internet would probably not exist. It was Perlman who invented the Spanning Tree algorithm and Spinning Tree Protocol on which much of the internet relies.

An MIT graduate, Perlman still guest-lectures at universities and other institutions around the world today.

5) Annie Easley

Society was stacked against Annie Easley ever achieving the heady heights which she eventually reached – that of NASA rocket scientist.

A black woman born in 1930s Alabama, it was only after moving to Cleveland that she decided that a career in pharmaceuticals wasn’t for her. She joined the NACA Flight Propulsion Laboratory, a facility that became part of the growing NASA organisation.

Not only was Easley one of very few women working in technical or engineering jobs at NASA. She was also one of only four African-Americans in over two-and-a-half thousand employees.

In addition to contributing to all kinds of NASA programs, Annie Easley was also heavily involved in community outreach activities to bring African-Americans and women into science and engineering.

All in all, Easley is one of the true heroines of women in STEM. One who should be even more widely celebrated.

Are you female and looking for your first engineering or manufacturing job?

Ernest Gordon is a specialist engineering recruitment agency. Every day, we place women and men up and down the UK in their ideal position.

Let’s talk about what you’re looking for. And see where we might be able to place you.