Today, we are going to be telling you about a lot of firsts, all accomplished by electrical engineer Edith Clarke, born on February 10th, 1883.
The first woman to earn a master’s degree in electrical engineering from MIT, the first woman to deliver a paper at the American Institute of Electrical Engineers’ annual meeting, the first professionally employed female electrical engineer in the United States, and first female Fellow of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers . And those are just some of her achievements.
After earning her bachelors she started her career at AT&T as a “computer:” a person, usually female, that completed calculations for male engineers. In 1918 she went back to school and obtained her MS in 1919 and began working at General Electric. But despite having an advanced degree she was still used only as a computer. In 1921 she filed a patent for a graphical calculator, developed to improve methods for solving complicated power transmission problems over distances as long as 250 miles, which was granted in 1925. Unsatisfied with being unable to gain employment as an engineer, she left GE in 1921 to travel, ending up in Turkey teaching physics at Constantinople Women’s College.
Returning to GE in 1922, where she was finally hired as an engineer, she worked on many projects including helping to build the Hoover Dam and obtaining two more patents related to electrical power transmission. While at GE she published 18 technical papers, included two that won awards, and wrote two textbooks on circuits in AC systems. Even after retiring from GE in 1945 she still had one more first to accomplish – being hired as the first female professor of electrical engineering in the United States. She taught at the University of Texas at Austin as a full professor until her second retirement in 1956 and passed away in 1959. In 2015 she was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Written by Angela Goad