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In 1676, Sir Isaac Newton wrote "If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants." In this blog, we take Newton's words to heart, and recognize the many great engineers and scientists upon whose shoulders we stand.

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The First Lady of Structural Engineering

Posted November 28, 2016 4:00 PM by MaggieMc

Elmina Wilson is widely regarded as “the first lady of structural engineering.” Born on September 29, 1870, Elmina came from a family of wealthy farmers and gained her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Iowa State University. While Wilson was not the first woman to obtain a bachelor’s degree in engineering, she was the first woman to gain a master’s degree in the same field. In addition, Wilson proceeded to work in civil engineering as a career woman, which was novel for the time.

During her studies, Wilson took courses at renowned universities: MIT and Cornell, while also working summers with engineering and architecture firms. After graduating, Wilson became a professor and continued to work summers at engineering firms, one of which was Purdy & Henderson, a firm that dominated the skyscraper industry.

One notable building Wilson worked on was the Flatiron Building in Manhattan. Completed in 1902, the Flatiron Building, and therefore Elmina Wilson, left a mark on New York City, defining the area in which the wedge-shaped building is located as the Flatiron District.

Elmina was also the first female to work full time as a civil-structural engineering professor. This is especially notable because it was less than forty years earlier, in 1855, that the first co-educational institution was opened in Iowa— it was also the first true co-ed college in the nation.

In addition to her legacy in the world of engineering, Wilson left a mark on women’s rights. Though Wilson passed away on June 2, 1918, and did not live to see the passing of the 19th amendment, she and her efforts played a role in the movement. As president of the Woman Suffrage Club in Manhattan, she “mingled with the national leaders and supporters of the women’s suffrage movement.”

Elmina’s sister, Alda H. Wilson, also received a degree in civil engineering, just two years after Elmina. Alda’s career moved more toward architecture. The sisters reportedly took a sabbatical in 1904 to study architectural and engineering works in Europe.


As noted in text.

Image Credit for Elmina Wilson to ASCE Library


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Join Date: Jan 2007
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Re: The First Lady of Structural Engineering

11/30/2016 3:18 AM



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Re: The First Lady of Structural Engineering

07/11/2017 5:05 AM

Despite the fact that Elmina was not the main lady to get a structural building degree from an American college — that respect has a place with 18-year-old Elizabeth Bragg (see sidebar) — she was first to get an ace's in the field and first to wind up noticeably a full-time school educator of common basic designing. Also, the Wilsons were the primary sister-sister combo to procure designing degrees in the meantime.
ref: click here

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