13 Famous Women Who Changed Tech History Forever

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Edith Clarke: Keeps Current, Takes Charge

No matter the obstacle, Edith Clarke knew how to take charge of her own destiny: “I had always wanted to be an engineer, but felt that women were not supposed to be doing things like studying engineering.”

By no means, however, was Clarke’s rise simple and easy. Orphaned at age 12, she came of age in a Maryland boarding school. At 18, she received a small inheritance which took her through Vassar College, then Yale’s all-women sister institution; she graduated in 1908. After teaching gigs in San Francisco and Wisconsin, Clarke returned to the field full-time as manager of an all-female team of “human computers” at AT&T. She had reached the ceiling for women in electrical engineering.

Determined to continue her career doing what “women were not supposed to be doing,” the pioneering powerhouse next enrolled at MIT and became that institution’s first woman to earn an M.S. in electrical engineering. But even with such a degree, no company would hire female engineers. In response, Clarke left the United States to teach physics at Istanbul’s Women’s College. Again, she couldn’t stay out of the field, returning to the United States as a “human computer” for General Electric.

At GE, Edith Clarke created and patented The Clarke Calculator, a graphical device that solved equations used to send power through electrical transmission lines longer than 250 meters. Her massive contribution to transcontinental telephone communication silenced skeptics; in 1922, at 38, Edith Clarke became the first professional female electrical engineer.

Next Up: The Women of ENIAC (click here or below)

11 Responses to “13 Famous Women Who Changed Tech History Forever”

    • Sophie Wilson was born Robert Wilson…a transwoman who started a career as a man should not take a space or attention away from a woman who was born female and socialized and raised female.

      • As a matter of fact, I am making a website for a webdev college course highlighting contributions of ALL WOMEN past, present and future and I have been looking for transwomen to feature on my site. I appreciate your bigotry because it just lead me to someone I can add. 🙂

      • I agree. A trans woman who grew up socialized as a MALE did not suffer the setbacks of a society putting him in “his place.” His contributions were already being recognized before he became a female. To equate his “struggle” for recognition and acceptance is to compare apples to oranges.

        To grow up socialized as a female effectively EXCLUDES one from all STEM-related expectations, and further INHIBITS, if not downright IMPEDES her being taken seriously in male-dominated fields. I know it because I lived it! He never did.

  1. False. The current climate of women in the tech industry is all-inclusive and we welcome transwomen. There is no place for discrimination in a field dedicated to advancement both in technology and social justice. Take a seat.

  2. ianpenfold

    what about Margeret Hamilton, who wrote most of the software for the 1969 apollo lunar landing, and invented the job title ‘software engineer’ which is still used today.

  3. Jim Austin

    The ladies who programmed the ENIAC didn’t use any programming languages with text editors and compilers. They were reportedly given blueprints of the machine and told to program it.