Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Women in Transportation

Contributed by Sandy Paquette, Trainer, Evergreen Safety Council
Transportation has long been considered a man’s field, but throughout time, women have made significant contributions to the transportation industry and laid the ground work for future innovation. Since the time when travel was dominated by walking, horse-drawn carriages, sailing ships, railroads, automobiles and aviation women have been a part of innovations, explorations, and manufacturing of transportation.

They became streetcar conductors, taxi cab drivers, business managers, commercial airline checkers, aerodynamic engineers, and railroad workers. Women operated machinery, buses, cranes, and tractors. They unloaded freight, worked in lumber and steel mills. They tested new airplanes, ferried aircraft and served as flight instructors for the military.

Brooklyn Bridge Construction

Emily Roebling became the surrogate Chief Engineer for the bridge between 1872 and its opening in 1883. Her husband, Washington A. Roebling, fell victim to caisson disease (decompression sickness) during construction if the Manhattan caisson, 78 feet beneath the surface of New York’s east River. This disease left Colonel Roebling paralyzed partly blind, deaf, and mute. To keep the bridge construction in the Roebling name, Emily Roebling continued the work of her husband. Colonel Roebling taught his wife higher mathematics, strength of materials, stress analysis, bridge specifications, and the complexities of cable construction. Although her training was informal, Mrs. Roebling is considered the first women engineer, and she was, in essence, in charge of day-to-day construction of the Brooklyn Bridge.

When the Brooklyn Bridge was opened on May 24, 1883, it was heralded as one of the most important construction projects of the 19th century. At the opening ceremonies, Congressman Abram S. Hewitt praised Emily Roebling for he role in serving as the link between Washington A. Roebling and the construction crew.

Elizabeth Bragg was the first woman in the Untied States to receive a civil engineering degree when she graduated form the University of California at Berkeley in 1876.

Elmina Wilson
In 1892, Elmina graduated from Iowa state College civil engineering programs. She went on to become the first female instructor at the college until she withdrew in 1905.

Resources are from the Brooklyn Museum and the Federal Highway Administration.

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