Edith Clarke Trailblazer

Edith Clarke

Born: February 10, 1883

Died: October 29, 1959

Education: Vassar College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Known for: Being the first female electrical engineer in the U.S.

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Electrical engineering trailblazer

Edith Clarke was the first woman to earn an electrical engineering degree from MIT

Edith Clarke was born on February 10, 1883 in Howard County, Maryland. Orphaned before she was 13, when she turned 18, she used her inheritance to go to college. In 1908, she earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics and astronomy from Vassar College. After teaching at girls schools for a few years, she decided to go back to school.

She started studying civil engineering in 1911, but was offered full-time work as a “human computer” for AT&T. She eventually became a manager, and during World War I lead a group of women who did calculations for Transmission and Protection Engineering Department.  She continued taking classes in radio and electrical engineering.

At the end of the war, she enrolled in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1919, she earned her master’s degree in electrical engineering —  the first woman to receive a degree from that department.

From 1919 until her first retirement in 1945, Edith worked as an engineer for General Electric. In 1921, she received a patent for her “graphical calculator”, which was used to solve electric power transmission line problems. In 1926, Clarke became the first woman to deliver a paper before the American Institute of Electrical Engineers.

In 1947, Clarke achieved another first by becoming the first female electrical engineering professor in the U.S., when she took the post at the University of Texas, Austin. Clarke’s accomplishments were recognized in 1954 by the Society of Women Engineers Achievements Award “in recognition of her many original contributions to stability theory and circuit analysis.”

She retired from teaching in 1956. Edith Clarke died in October 1959 at the age of 76.