Beatrice Hicks Trailblazer

Portrait of Beatrice Hicks

Born: January 2, 1919

Died: October 21, 1979

Spouse: Rodney Duane Chipp

Education: Newark College of Engineering (now the New Jersey Institute of Technology)

Known for: Leadership in engineering organizations at a time when engineering was considered an unusual profession for a women

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Co-founder of the Society of Women Engineers

The first president of the Society of Women Engineers, worked on aircraft technology and diligently supported women in engineering throughout her career

Beatrice Hicks was born January 2, 1919 in Orange, New Jersey. She earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the Newark College of Engineering (now the New Jersey Institute of Technology) in 1939. After serving as a research assistant at the Newark College of Engineering for three years, she went to work for Western Electric, becoming the first woman to be hired as an engineer by the company in 1942. There, she worked on technology for telephone communication and aircraft communication.

Hicks left Western Electric and worked for the Newark Controls Company, which her father started, serving as vice-president, chief engineer, and eventually the president of the company. Hicks earned a master’s degree in physics from the Stevens Institute of Technology in 1949 while working at the Newark Controls Company. She also worked as a consultant over the course of her career and was a registered engineer in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC.

In 1950, Hicks was elected as the first president of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). She was awarded SWE’s highest honor, the Achievement Award, in 1963. Hicks earned many other honors over the course of her career, as well. She received honorary doctorates from Hobart and William Smith College in 1958 and the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in 1965, becoming the first women to receive an honorary doctorate from RPI. Hicks was named Mademoiselle magazine’s Woman of the Year in Business in 1952 and the Newark College of Engineering’s Alumna of the Year in 1962. She was a member of the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE), American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1978.

Hicks worked diligently her entire career to encourage and support women in engineering. She and her husband Rodney Chipp, who was also an engineer, were also chosen to represent the National Society for Professional Engineers on a tour of South America, and Hicks continued similar aid work after her husband’s death.

Hicks passed away on October 21, 1979 at age 60.

Adapted from Henri Busignies’ tribute Beatrice Hicks in the National Acadmies’ Memorial Tributes: Volume 2.
Additional Source: Beatrice Alice Hicks. Retrieved from Engineering and Technology Wiki

Photo credits:
Photo from the Smithsonian Institution Archives (SIA Acc. 90-105 [SIA2008-1924]).