Volgenau School of Engineering
George Mason University
George Mason University Mason
George Mason University

Our World is Round -- Women in Engineering

October 9, 2013

From a young age, many people can easily tell you who Thomas Edison or Alexander Graham Bell were and probably what they invented. What is less likely is that these same students could name famous female engineers—even though many women have played significant roles in engineering. From bulletproof vests to windshield wipers, women have made and continue to make outstanding engineering contributions to society.
 
The Volgenau School of Engineering is committed to diversity and is encouraging young women to consider engineering as a major. The school's female graduation rate has climbed in the last three years from 26 percent female to 28 percent. Currently more than one thousand attend classes as undergraduates. In the spring and summer of 2014 VSE will sponsor special STEM classes and workshops for girls who are interested in science and math.
 
While VSE continues to educate female engineers, we celebrate Women's History Month by sharing the names and accomplishments of eight women who have made notable contributions to engineering. We hope to hear about the accomplishments of our famous alumnae in the future.
 
Emily Roebling (1843-1903) stepped in as the first woman field engineer and technical leader of the Brooklyn Bridge when her husband, Washington Roebling, became paralyzed and could no longer work without the help of his wife. 
 
Beulah Henry (1887-1973) was known as "the lady Edison" in the 1920s and 1930s for the many inventions she patented, including a bobbin-free lockstitch sewing machine, a doll with flexible arms, a vacuum ice cream freezer, a doll with a radio inside and a typewriter that made multiple copies without carbon paper. 
 
Hedy Lamarr (1913-2000) might be recalled as a glamorous movie star of the 1930s and 1940s, but few people know that she invented a remote-controlled communications system for the U.S military during World War II.  Lamarr's  frequency hopping theory now serves as a basis for modern communication technology, such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi network connections.
 
While working for DuPont, Stephanie Louise Kwolek (b. 1923) discovered liquid crystalline polymers, which resulted in the product Kevlar. Containing fibers that are stronger than steel, Kevlar is used to make bulletproof vests, radial tires, airplane fuselages and fiber optic cables. 
 
Martha Coston (1826-1904) is credited with developing a signaling flare system that's used by the U.S. military and known as Coston flares. Coston needed a way to support herself and her children after the death of her husband and discovered a design he had left behind in a notebook. She worked for nearly 10 years revising the designs to include pyrotechnic components to create a long-lasting and multicolored system of flares. 
 
Lillian Gilbreth (1878-1972) contributed to industrial engineering by studying workplace patterns and ergonomics. She became the first female member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1926. 
 
Edith Clarke 1883-1959) was at the forefront in bringing sophisticated electrical engineering concepts to dam building in the western United States. As an engineer for General Electric Clarke won awards for her papers and a patent for a specialized calculator.
 
Mary Anderson (1866-1953) invented the windshield wiper after a winter trip to New York in 1903 where she observed a driver leaving his front window open to clear falling sleet from the windshield.  In November 1903 Anderson was granted her first patent for the invention of the windshield wiper. 
 
A version of this list appears on The Expert Witness and was posted by Robin Sjostrom on Oct. 9, 2013.