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By: Stacey Godbold

4 Women Trailblazers in Safety and STEM

March is National Women’s Month and we are celebrating by highlighting the history of women in safety and science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). There was a time when women didn’t “go into science” or “weren’t into” math, engineering and construction, however there are many trailblazers who didn’t give in to the belief that women couldn’t do “those types of things.” And because of those trailblazers, countless women have made significant improvements in safety, mechanics, and science.

Below is a Life magazine photo of MIT’s class of 1956. There were just 12 women in a class of 759. Can you find them?

Mit Story – ’56 (Feb 25, 1956) by Gjon Mili LIFE Photo Collection[/caption]

Ellen Swallow Richards was the first woman admitted to MIT, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in 1873. She completed the requirements for a master’s degree, but the Institute refused to grant her it.

Disparities like those seen centuries ago, and what we still see to some degree today, is why I think it’s important to recognize and celebrate women’s progress in our field. It is only recently that cultural expectations shifted toward envisioning women and girls in science and technology fields. But we still have a lot of work to do. Today, women make up only 28% of the workforce in STEM, and men vastly outnumber women majoring in most STEM fields in college.

The proportion of women to men in today’s overall labor force is narrowing. Over 72 million women work in the civilian labor force, which accounts for almost 47 percent of all U.S. workers, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data from February 2021.

Younger generations are seeing past gender stereotypes and will continue to blaze into STEM, safety management, manufacturing, and construction management careers at a rapid pace. Millennials are steadfast on teaching their daughters and sons the importance of gender equality helping to continue to move in the right direction of progress seeing these workforces reflect our population.

It is critical we shine a light on the women who have come before us in addition to creating a path for girls and women as they chose these fields. It’s the responsible thing to do.

So here are four women who inspire me as they blaze the road to equality.


Mary Riggin
In the 19th century, safety was of little concern in everyday life, and railroads were no different. Accidents between other trains, animals, pedestrians, and wagons were common during that time.
Mary Riggin witnessed one of those accidents and had an idea to create a crossing gate to warn pedestrians and drivers on an oncoming train.
Today the gate is automated, and the idea continues to save lives. The next time you are in a line of cars waiting for the train to pass, tip your hat to Mary Higgins for making our lives safer.

Renderings form Mary Higgin’s Patent – U.S. Patent Office

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Emily Warren
After graduating from Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School, Emily Warren met and married Washington Roebling, the son of Brooklyn Bridge designer John A. Roebling. John died from a bridge accident, and soon after, Washington became ill. Emily relayed information from Washington to his assistants. According to Wikipedia, she “developed an extensive knowledge of strength of materials, stress analysis, cable construction, and calculating catenary curves through Washington’s teachings.” Her dedication to finish the bridge was steadfast. She took over much of the day-to-day supervision, project management, and was the acting chief engineer in her husband’s place.
The Brooklyn Bridge was completed in 1883, and Emily was the first to cross the bridge by carriage.

Mary anderson

Mary Anderson
Riding in a streetcar in New York while is it was sleeting, Mary Anderson’s driver was having a hard time seeing the road and had to get out of the car to remove the snow/ sleet from the windshield. Anderson, who was not an engineer but instead was an entrepreneur, identified the problem and its opportunity resulting in a safety mechanism we often take for granted today: a windshield wiper.
On Nov. 10, 1903, the United States Patent Office awarded Anderson a 17-year patent for her “Window Cleaning Device.” Mary Anderson’s invention was overlooked, and cars were not very popular in the early 1900s.
Automobile production increased by 1920 though, after her patent expired, and Anderson’s basic design became standard. Sadly, she did not receive any revenue from her invention. I’m hopeful she took great pride in knowing her invention saved countless lives.

Edith Clarke

Edith Clarke
Edith Clarke used her inheritance to study mathematics and astronomy at Vassar College, where she graduated in 1908. While working as a “computer” for AT&T, in 1912 and in 1918, Clarke enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the following year she became the first woman to earn an Master of Science in electrical engineering from MIT. She struggled to find work as a female engineer, so she worked in Turkey until she was hired at General Electric as the first professional female electrical engineer in the United States.
During her tenure, she wrote several published papers on safety and electrical and mathematic systems, received awards, and wrote an influential textbook. She paved the way for women in safety, STEM, and engineering and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2015.
My hope is that in honoring these incredible women who paved the way for women and girls in STEM, safety and manufacturing we can inspire other women and girls to see this as one of many opportunities available to them.

My hope is that in honoring these incredible women who paved the way for women and girls in STEM, safety and manufacturing we can inspire other women and girls to see this as one of many opportunities available to them.

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