CR4® - The Engineer's Place for News and Discussion®

WoW Blog (Woman of the Week)

Each week this blog will feature a prominent woman who made significant contributions to engineering or science. If you have any women you'd like us to feature please let us know and we'll do our best to include them.

Do you know of a great woman in engineering that should be recognized? Let us know! Submit a few paragraphs about that person and we'll add her to the blog. Please provide a citation for the material that you submit so that we can verify it. Please note - it has to be original material. We cannot publish copywritten material or bulk text taken from books or other sites (including Wikipedia).

Woman of the Week – Sylvia Acevedo

Posted May 21, 2018 4:30 PM by lmno24

Sylvia Acevedo is an engineer, rocket scientist and current leader of one of the largest organizations for young women to learn and grow – Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA).

In May 2017, she was announced as the newest leader of GSUSA.

Acevedo was born near Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota. When she was young, her family relocated to New Mexico. Here she became active in her local Brownie troop and took an interest in science, though she was discouraged by her teachers. She credits her troop leader with fostering her interest in the sciences. In an interview with CNN, she recalls one of her first memories with science, when she tried out a hobby rocket kit.

She earned her B.S. at New Mexico State University in industrial engineering. She continued her education at Stanford University and became one of the first Hispanic students to earn a Master’s degree there. Her Master’s degree is in systems engineering.

She went on to become an engineer working at NASA in the jet propulsion lab, including significant work on the 1979 Voyager trip around Jupiter. She also worked at IBM and Dell and later launched and sold a software startup. She also worked at Apple for a time as a technology executive.

Her time spent in the STEM fields has translated directly into strides within GSUSA. The organization now offers 20-plus science and technology related badges and has taken a renewed approach on encouraging women in STEM to pursue their passions.

"Girl Scouts has always been an important part of my life, helping me as a young girl to develop the skills to become a leader. My focus [at GSUSA] has been to raise the profile of the Girl Scout Movement and mission, with the targeted aim to grow membership,” she said in a news release from GSUSA. “So I am excited to be able to move forward with the initiatives I launched with my colleagues over the past year, and to keep our momentum going strong."

1 comments; last comment on 05/22/2018
View/add comments

Woman of the Week – Elizebeth Smith Friedman

Posted May 14, 2018 4:30 PM by lmno24

She has been called America’s first female cryptanalyst.

Elizabeth Smith Friedman was born in Huntington, Indiana and she was the youngest of nine children. Her mother is responsible for the unique spelling of her name, she was very much against her daughter ever being called Eliza.

From 1911 to 1913, Friedman attended the University of Wooster in Ohio. When her mother got sick, she transferred closer to home to Hillsdale College in Michigan and graduated in 1915 with an English major. She also studied many languages and took other classes here and there in many other subjects.

She had a short stint as a substitute principal after college. Until one day, she was given a tremendous offer. A librarian she had befriended mentioned Friedman’s love of Shakespeare while talking with Colonel Fabyan, a wealthy textile merchant.

She hit it off with Fabyan and as hired to be part of the distinguished staff at his estate in Riverbank, Illinois. The staff consisted of typists, translators, a graduate student in genetics, and professionals specializing in acoustics, engineering. Riverbank was one of the first such facilities to promote cryptology.

She was able to gather a significant amount of information on the secret writings. Up until the creation of the Army's Cipher Bureau, Riverbank was the only facility capable of exploiting and solving enciphered messages.

In 1923, she was hired as a cryptanalyst for the U.S. Navy. This eventually turned into a position with the U.S. Treasury Department's Bureau of Prohibition and of Customs. The agency’s notable projects include monitoring international drug smuggling and transport and other criminal activity. The smugglers used encrypted radio messages under the assumption no one could understand the communications but the unit was able to decode the messages. Friedman solved the bulk of intercepts collected by Coast Guard stations in San Francisco and Florida herself.

In 1928, she was sent to the Pacific Coast to teach others how to understand the messages. Then, she was recruited to Houston, Texas to solve 650 cases subpoenaed by the U.S. Attorney in Texas.

Friedman's work was responsible for providing decoded information that resulted in the conviction of the narcotics-smuggling Ezra Brothers.

By 1931, she convinced Congress the country needed a dedicated cryptanalytic section and taught even more people how to study the codes. With more people trained, she also could focus on breaking down the new systems and types of messages that were popping up.

She was often called to testify in cases against drug smugglers on trial. In 1933, her work directly resulted in convictions against thirty-five bootlegging ringleaders who were found to have violated the Volstead Act.

She played a major role in settling a dispute between Canada and the U.S. over who owned the vessel called the _I'm Alone_. It was flying the Canadian flag when it was sunk by a U.S. Coast Guard cutter.The Canadian government filed a $350,000 suit against the U.S., but the intelligence pulled from the 23 messages decoded by Friedman indicated U.S. ownership of the vessel.

The Canadian government, though upset they lost the suit, was impressed with her work. They sought her help cracking down on an opium dealer. Her keen eye helped decipher complicated Chinese enciphered code and lead to a successful conviction, despite her lack of knowledge with the language.

After her government work, she retired and spent time on writing projects with her husband. Her husband William F. Friedman was also a Shakespeare enthusiast and also a cryptographer. They wrote "The Cryptologist Looks at Shakespeare," eventually published as The Shakespearean Ciphers Examined.

Friedman died on October 31, 1980, in the Abbott Manor Nursing Home in Plainfield, New Jersey, at the age of 88. She is buried with her husband at Arlington National Cemetery.

Add a comment

Woman of the Week – Isabel Roberts

Posted May 07, 2018 4:30 PM by lmno24

Isabel Roberts was one of two women who worked in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Oak Park Studio in the early 20th century. She built a number of commercial, residential, civic and religious buildings in the Orlando, Florida region during the real estate surge of the 1920s.

She was born in Missouri in 1871. Her parents moved there and had two children; they moved soon after to Providence, Rhode Island then later settled in South Bend, Indiana where her father took a job as deputy director of inspections for the state.

The family became active members of the church in town. They became friends with Laura Cahsey Bowsher who would later commission Frank Lloyd Wright for the K.C. DeRhodes House in South Bend after being introduced to Wright by Roberts.

In 1899, she began studies at the Atelier Masqueray-Chambers in New York, which had been inaugurated just six years earlier, inspired by the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. She studied at the second location, which was later determined to be the first Beaux-Arts Atelier for women in the U.S.

In 1901, she moved to Illinois to work with Frank Lloyd Wright along with Marion Mahony as the only two women in the office. Wright’s hire of these women did come with some contention. He was known for being stingy with sharing his name on designs, so he hired Roberts as his bookkeeper and babysitter. Many sources refer to her as an office manager or “she did occasionally try her hand at design and certainly worked on some of the detail drawings of her own house.”

However, she actually oversaw many projects in Wright’s absence including the Laura Gale residence (also known as the Mrs. Thomas H. Gale residence) in Oak Park and the Stohr Arcade Building in Chicago (both 1909).

Her other two most notable works include the K. C. DeRhodes House (South Bend, Indiana, 1906) and the Isabel Roberts House (River Forest, Illinois, 1908). The Roberts House was commissioned by her mother, who intended to live there with Isabel and her sister.

The Roberts House features continuous gutters that accentuate the horizontal lines of the prominently cantilevered eaves. It also featured dynamic massing that erodes at the corners to further emphasize the roof’s floating quality and the porch was built around an existing tree.

Roberts moved to Illinois to care for her mother, while wrapping up Wright’s commissioned projects and closing the office because Wright moved to Europe. In 1916, she and her mother moved to Florida where her sister already lived until her mother died in 1920.

Later that year, Roberts went into practice with Ida Annah Ryan, an architect from Massachusetts. They maintained the practice through 1945, luckily finishing most projects before the 1929 stock market crash.

Most of their projects were in Florida, the most significant being the Veterans Memorial Library in St. Cloud. It was built of hollow terra-cotta and finished in stucco with large windows to let the sunlight in for reading. The pair had different styles that made them appealing to many clients.

Roberts never earned her licensure as an architect, so she was not able to be a member of the American Institute of Architects despite her mentors pushing for her. Ryan died in 1950 after a long illness. Roberts, who was said to be her life partner in some sources, cared for her during her final years. The couple lived in Orlando and Roberts died in 1955 from heart failure. She is buried next to her sister in Orlando.

Add a comment

Woman of the Week – Mary Jane Colter

Posted April 30, 2018 4:30 PM by lmno24

Mary Jane Colter was one of few female architects in her day and made herself known through many notable projects like the Santa Fe Railroad in Grand Canyon Park. Her vision helped create a style of building that blended Spanish Colonial Revival with Native American motifs.

Colter was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1869. Her family moved from Pennsylvania to Colorado and then Texas before settling in St. Paul, Minnesota. Her family settled there when she was 11, and she considered it her hometown. In 1880, the town was growing and had a large population of Sioux Indians.

She was surrounded by Sioux art and style and began to take an interest in it. At one point, the Native American population was overcome with a scourge of smallpox. Her mother tried to burn all Mary’s artifacts out of fear that the germs would spread and get the family sick. She was able to hide the items from her mother and kept them for the rest of her life.

She graduated from high school early at age 14 in 1883. She took some time in between high school and college to care for her father, who died in 1886. She then attended the California School of Design (now the San Francisco Art Institute) and graduated in 1910, and apprenticed with a local architectural firm. She learned a new California style of architecture patterned after the early California missions.

She then moved back to St. Paul and taught art, drafting and architecture for a few years. Her first design commission came about by luck. She met the daughter of the founder of the Fred Harvey Company, and after a conversation, Harvey hired her to decorate the new Indian Building at the Alvarado Hotel in Albuquerque.

This was the start of what would become a 46-year working relationship with Harvey. He owned restaurants, hotels and shops along the Santa Fe Railroad. Colter used her love for Native American style to influence her design in many of Harvey’s spaces. She employed artisans to bring her visions to life.

She helped create a down-to-earth style that made the spaces popular for travelers looking for a space that felt relaxing but charming.

Colter created a series of remarkable works in the Grand Canyon National Park, mostly on the South Rim: the 1905 Hopi House, the 1914 Hermit's Rest and observatory Lookout Studio, and the 1932 Desert View Watchtower, a 70-foot-tall (21 m) rock tower with a hidden steel structure.

In 1987, the buildings were grouped under the Mary Jane Colter Buildings and incorporated as a National Historic Landmark.

1 comments; last comment on 04/30/2018
View/add comments

Woman of the Week – Natalie de Blois

Posted April 23, 2018 4:30 PM by lmno24

Natalie Griffin de Blois is often recalled as a pioneer in the male-dominated world of architecture. She’s known for designing many high-rise buildings in major cities around the world.

She took an interest to architecture at an early age. She was born into a family of engineers and recalled telling her father that she wanted to be an architect at age 12. While she was a junior in high school, her father got her into a mechanical drawing class that previously was only for male students. The course introduced her to a drafting skillset she’d use later in her career, but also foreshadowed the gender bias she would later face as well.

She attended the Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio, and received an architecture degree from Columbia University in 1944. While at Columbia, she worked for Austrian-American architect Frederick John Kiesler and at Babcock & Wilcock.


She began her career at a New York firm called Ketchum, Gina, and Sharpe, but rejected the advances of one of the firm's male architects. He then called for her to be fired and called her a “distraction.”

She then joined the architectural firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM). Her former boss recommended her for the job, which turned out to be a tremendous opportunity for her. She several major business buildings on Park Avenue in New York City, including The Pepsi Building and the Union Carbide Building (now known as the Chase Building). Her other significant works include Lever House, the Equitable Building in Chicago, the low-rise portions of the Ford World Headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan, and the Connecticut General Life Insurance Company Headquarters in Bloomfield, Connecticut.

On most of these projects, she was the senior designer or in charge of the teams from the drawing to the site planning stage. However, SOM partner Gordon Bunshaft’s name is most often associated with these buildings.

As part of SOM was transferred to Chicago, she worked there constructing skyscrapers from 1962 to 1974. Richard Tomlinson, the managing partner of SOM's Chicago office, believes it’s the “best thing that ever happened to us" and De Blois was eventually promoted to associate partner in 1964. In 1980, she began teaching at the University of TexasSchool of Architecture

Given the sexism she faced in the workplace and the difficulties she faced as a divorced woman with four children and a career to balance, she also took on being a founding member of Chicago Women in Architecture. She became well-known for advocating for women in the architecture field.

Amidst all her activism, she left SOM after putting in thirty years and overseeing projects in three cities but still never being made a full partner. She spent a year traveling Europe then returned to the workforce at age 53 by accepting a job at Neuhaus & Taylor in Houston, Texas. She also began teaching courses at the University of Texas.

She retired from teaching in 1993 and from practice the following year. She moved back to Chicago and remained there until her death in 2013.

Add a comment

Previous in Blog: Woman of the Week – Gertrude Jekyll  
Show all Blog Entries in this Blog