Cool People – Edith Clarke

Edith_Clarke

Edith Clarke’s engineering education resulted in her being MIT’s (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) first female electrical engineering graduate-degree holder. Spending part of her career with AT&T, General Electric, and as the first of AIEE’s (American Institute of Electrical Engineers) female fellows, Ms. Clarke is also credited with inventing the graphical calculator.

Edith Clarke (1883-1959) was born in Howard County, Maryland.  At the age of eighteen, she received a small inheritance and went to Vassar College.  She graduated in 1908 with honors.  She later entered MIT, where she earned her master’s in electrical engineering, becoming the first woman to earn a degree in that field from MIT.  Ms. Clarke found opportunities for women in the engineering field very limited, so she went to work for General Electric.  It was during this time that she filed a patent application describing her invention of a graphical calculator to be used in the solution of electric power transmission problems. She taught physics for a year at Constantinople Women’s College in Turkey.  Upon her return to New York, Ms. Clarke to work as an engineer for General Electric.  This made her the first professionally employed female electrical engineer in the United States, and was the first woman to be accepted as a full voting member of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE, which became IEEE in 1963).  She retired in 1945, and became a Fellow of AIEE in 1948; the first woman to be so honored.

A notable quote: In an interview with the Daily Texan on March 14, 1948, Clarke observed: “There is no demand for women engineers, as such, as there are for women doctors; but there’s always a demand for anyone who can do a good piece of work.

Honors collected by Ms. Clarke include: being the first female engineer to achieve professional standing in Tau Beta Pi. In 1948, Clarke was the first female Fellow of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. In 1954, she received the Society of Women Engineers Achievement Award. In 2015, Clarke was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

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