When ASCE was founded in 1852, its membership was restricted to men, a policy which eventually led to a sexual discrimination lawsuit filed in 1916 by Nora Stanton Blatch DeForest, the granddaughter of women’s rights advocate Elizabeth Cady Stanton. DeForest was an engineering graduate of Cornell University and was admitted to junior membership in ASCE in 1905. In 1915, when she no longer qualified as a junior member as she had surpassed the legal age limit per the ASCE bylaws, DeForest applied for associate membership. ASCE turned down her request for an associate membership and terminated her membership. DeForest filed a lawsuit. The case was tried in the New York Supreme Court, but the court ruled in favor of the Society, citing its status as a private organization. it would be another 11 years later, in 1927, Elsie Eaves became the first woman to be admitted as a regular member of ASCE.
It would be yet another 76 more years before a woman was elected president of ASCE – me. Becoming an engineer was not easy then and still has its obstacles today. While excited as a teen about the prospects of becoming an engineer, the same obstacles that I faced then, still face young women today and typically appear from those young women consult: guidance counselors – “no aptitude for engineering”; math teacher – “you’ll flunk out”; and parents/teachers – “isn’t that a man’s job?” Despite these negative responses which I expect girls may continue to receive, remembering the words of my mother, “You can do anything and don’t accept that it can’t be done”, led me to fulfill my dream and become the first woman President of ASCE in its 152-year history. I want to stress that discouragements only mean opportunities for you to show the world what you can really do.
It was my personal story that led to another dream – to have a book published that would tell the stories of past and present women engineers which could serve as role models to young girls. The ASCE Task Force Committee on Women in Civil Engineering that I chaired in 1999, worked diligently for two years researching names of over 150 prominent women engineers. But it was not until I became ASCE President five years later, that I had the opportunity to discuss the task committee’s work with other major Engineering society Presidents – who for the first time in history were all women. These discussions led to the “birth” of the Extra Ordinary Women’s Project Coalition. The Coalition began work on this book and other tools that will inow in print informs girls, guidance counselors, teachers and parents as to why engineering is an exciting career. The project is communicating to the public the benefits of engineering and the role that engineers serve in improving the quality of life. I hope that you enjoy reading the stories in this book as much as I have and that it will inspire you or someone you know to choose engineering as a rewarding career. Phase 2 of the project is now underway with a large coalition looking at how to assemble and create resources to address the problem. Information about the program can be viewed at www.engineeryoulife.org website. The Engineer section is hosted by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). As we move forward to shatter the glass ceilings, I we cannot venture alone and that we must build on the foundations that others have built. As I am reminded by what Sir Issac Newton once said: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”.
Also on this day in 1794, Eli Whitney patented the cotton gin. The story of the invention of the cotton gin is intriguing as some have claimed that the original idea came from African American slaves who could not patent at the time. And major features of the design were suggested by his sponsor and land lady, Catherine Greene at a time when women were not allowed to patent either.