Friday, July 31, 2009

A little history to make you smile

After doing some research on women and technical societies, I just had to post this article about Nora Stanton Blatch (De Forest Barney) from 1907, which I found immensely funny.

She was the first woman to obtain a degree in civil engineering in the US and the first woman to become a junior member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Her mother and grandmother made significant contributions to the women's rights movement with the support of their respective husbands. She herself became quite involved in the suffragette movement. She married the inventor Lee De Forest (also an interesting character) and had a child, but they soon separated.

"De Forest and Blatch were both devoted parents, but De Forest could not understand how Blatch could continue working after motherhood. De Forest criticized Blatch for exhibiting 'mentality and calculating ambition' in her efforts to 'fill man’s place, to surpass him in his own sphere.' Blatch and De Forest divorced in 1911." -

She appeared to be doing quite well as a civil engineer only a short time after graduation, but in 1915 she was denied associate membership to the ASCE. They claimed she was inexperienced, she argued it was sexual discrimination, and she took them to court. The New York State Supreme Court sided with the society, citing its status as a private organisation. Besides her early work, I have not read much about her experience as a civil engineer and I'm not sure how she compared to her peers who were awarded the "associate member" title, so I will reserve judgement, but I have my suspicions.

She later married Morgan Barney and worked in real estate development.

Patricia Galloway, the only woman to be president of the ASCE (it only took 150 years), wrote a blog about her in March.

For some reason, in 2002-2003, women were suddenly presidents of all the engineering societies in the states (Patricia Galloway among them). You can read more about them here. Unfortunately, there haven't been many since.

Well, here's hoping there are a lot more women out there demonstrating 'mentality and calculating ambition'!

Image copied from here.


Jennifer said...

One of my ex-colleagues EE (now retired) - graduated from the prestigious Brown University - told me how she interviewed for a position at one of the "think-tank" labs in MA, USA. At the end of the interview, she was told that she could not be hired even though she was the best qualified candidate. The reason: while the lab had funding for the position, it did not have enough to create a separate restroom for her. The lab only had male restrooms!

Time has certainly changed but even the McGill McConnell building, while I studied EE there about a decade or so ago, only had female restrooms on 3 floors: first floor, second floor with lockers for flagball and then the seventh floor! EEs had all labs on the fifth floor so as you can imagine, all my bio breaks needed careful planning!!