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Spotlight on Women in Engineering

With only 9% of engineers in the UK being women, we want to celebrate women engineers and tell you a little more about two inspirational women who you may or may not of heard of but their legacy lives on today.

Today we take a look at Emily Warren Roebling and Mary Fergusson, two extremely talented engineers who gained respect and notoriety in a time when the number of women engineers was far, far lower than 9%!

We hope you enjoy their stories as much as we do and remember to check back soon as with so many talented, little known women engineers, we’re sure we’ll be making this a regular feature.

Emily Warren Roebling, 1843 – 1903

Emily is considered to be the person in charge of the day to day construction of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Emily Warren RoeblingIn the late 1800’s, crossing the East River from Brooklyn to New York was no easy task, and Emily’s father in law, John A. Roebling, began drawing up plans for the Brooklyn Bridge in 1869.

Before construction of the Brooklyn Bridge began, John A Roebling died of tetanus, leaving her husband to take over the project; During construction, Emilys husbands health deteriorated due to decompression sickness contracted while working in the caissons for the bridge piers deep down beneath the rivers surface.

With her husband confined to the sickroom, Emily took over the role as master bridge builder and began studying topics in civil engineering including maths, materials and cable construction. Emily lead the project, visiting site daily to convey her husbands instructions to workers and to offer advice. Her role on site became so prominent that many suspected that Emily was the intelligence behind the bridge.

In 1883 the Brooklyn Bridge opened and it was Emily Roebling who rode with President Chester Arthur across the great bridge. At the opening ceremony Abram Hewitt said of Emily: “”The name of Emily Warren Roebling will…be inseparably associated with all that is admirable in human nature and all that is wonderful in the constructive world of art.” He called the bridge “an everlasting monument to the self-sacrificing devotion of a woman and of her capacity for that higher education from which she has been too long disbarred.”

Source: https://www.asce.org/templates/person-bio-detail.aspx?id=11203

Mary Fergusson, 1914 – 1997

Mary is believed to be the first female fellow of the Institute of Civil Engineers and the first woman in the UK to have a full-time engineering career.

Mary FergussonMary’s passion for engineering was introduced to her by her father who specialised in engineering medical x-ray equipment; Mary was clearly passionate about engineering, graduating from the University of Edinburgh with a BSc Honours degree in Civil Engineering in 1936.

Beginning her career in an unpaid trainee position with Scottish firm Blyth and Blyth, her talent was soon spotted and she progressed quickly though the ranks of the company. Her obvious talent and dedication lead to being appointed as a senior partner, a great achievement as Mary Fergusson was the first female to ever hold this position within a civil engineering company.

Mary gained a reputation for her endless energy and enthusiasm for engineering, contributing to many infasctructure projects within the Highlands and Islands. She also worked on the Markinch papermills and was proudly responsible for designing reinforced concrete bridges, steel-framed buildings and the River Leven water purification plant.

Mary was made the first ever female fellow of the Institution of Civil Enineers in 1957 and worked as a consultant after retiring in 1957, using these earnings to fund a university bursary for engineers. Mary was awarded an OBE in 1979 and an Honorary Doctorate of Science at Heriot-Watt University in 1985. A truly incredible woman who opened many doors for women in STEM today!

Source: https://www.ice.org.uk/what-is-civil-engineering/historical-civil-engineers/mary-fergusson