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Edith Clarke

Edith Clarke
Watercolor on 9″ x 12″ watercolor paper
The latest addition to the ‘She Changed the World’ collection!

Edith Clarke (1883-1959) was the first professional female electrical engineer. After being orphaned at age 12 she was raised by her older sister, and later used her inheritance to study mathematics and astronomy at Vassar College. She taught mathematics and physics for a few years after graduating before accepting a position with AT&T in 1912 as a ‘computer’. She computed mathematical problems to address the problems of long-distance electrical transmissions. She also studied electrical engineering at night during this time at Columbia University. In 1918 she became the first woman to earn an MS in electrical engineering from MIT.

Unable to find work as an engineer, she worked for General Electric as a supervisor of their human computers, and there invented the Clarke calculator, a graphical device that solved equations involving electric current, voltage and impedance in power transmission lines, and did so ten times faster than previous methods.

In 1922 GE finally hired her as an electrical engineer, and she held the position until retiring in 1945. Her proficiency for mathematics quickly made her a star in the field, leading the many high-profile lectures and authoring an influential textbook on power engineering. In 1947 she joined the faculty at University off Texas at Austin, making her the first female professor of Electrical Engineering in America. She taught until 1957.

“There is no demand for women engineers, as such,” she observed, “as there are for women doctors; but there’s always a demand for anyone who can do a good piece of work.”