Earlier this year we reported on the lack of Women in Engineering. This is due, in some part, to the perceptions of what a career in engineering involves.

Studies have shown that many female students believe engineering is all about fixing cars, getting their hands dirty and coming home with black faces and dirty nails. As a result, they steer clear.

It has caused widespread concern. So much so, that earlier this year, business secretary Vince Cable suggested the shortage of engineers, and in particular a shortage of women in engineering, provided a serious threat to recovery.

At that stage – and figures are understood to have changed very little – only 8 per cent of British engineers were women. That compares unfavourably with 15 per cent in Germany, 25 per cent in Sweden and 30 per cent in Latvia.

Little wonder therefore, that when a study into the contribution of women to the history of science, technology and engineering, was undertaken, 95 per cent of students referred to male scientists, inventors or engineers. In another study, respondents named on average less than one woman and those named were more often from non-STEM fields than actual scientists, inventors or engineers.

To try and encourage more interest, this year saw the first National Women in Engineering day at which organisers helped to celebrate women in engineering. The day also showcased the great engineering careers available to girls.

In a bid to dispel the myth that women have played precious little part in the history of engineering, we thought we’d take a look back at some of the most famous female engineers in history.

FOUR famous female engineers

Emily Roebling (1803-1903)

Emily Roebling stepped in as the first woman field engineer and technical leader of the Brooklyn Bridge when her husband, Washington Roebling, became paralyzed and could no longer work without the help of his wife. Emily became responsible for much of the chief engineer’s duties, including day-to-day supervision and project management.

Sarah Guppy (1770-1852)

Sarah Guppy was an English inventor who contributed to the design of Britain’s infrastructure and developed several domestic products. Born in Birmingham, she patented the first of her inventions in 1811 – a method of making safe piling for bridges. As a friend of Isambard Kingdom Brunel and his family she became involved in the Great Western Railways, writing to directors with ideas and giving her support.

Ada Lovelace (1815-1852)

Ada Lovelace was an English mathematician, and the world’s first computer programmer. In 1842, she wrote a series of notes on the workings of the analytical engine, a type of clockwork computer proposed by her friend Charles Babbage, which described an algorithm for the analytical engine to compute an established sequence of numbers: a computer program in other words.

Unfortunately, the Analytical Engine was never built, so we will never know if Lovelace’s theory worked. However, her place in computing history was assured.

Martha J. Coston (1826-1904)

Another famous female engineer in history, Martha Coston is credited with developing a signaling flare system that’s used by the U.S. military and known as Coston flares. Coston needed a way to support herself and her children after the death of her husband and discovered a design he had left behind in a notebook. She worked for nearly 10 years revising the designs to include pyrotechnic components to create a long-lasting and multicolored system of flares.

Is there an individual who didn’t make our list of Famous Female Engineers in History that you think deserves recognition? Let us know in the comment box below.

What are your thoughts about the engineering profession and why it is not attracting as many women as it should?

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