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Celebrating Edith Clarke

A woman of many firsts in the field of math and electrical engineering
Edith Clarke
http://ghn.ieee.org/wiki/index.php/File:Clarke.jpg
Edith Clarke

In celebration of Women’s History Month, The Coyote Caller is recognizing women from around the world who have made a contribution to society. Today, we recognize Edith Clarke, the first woman to earn an electrical engineering degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Edith Clarke was born on February 10, 1883, in Maryland. She was orphaned before she was 13. When she turned 18, she used her inheritance to go to college. After she earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and astronomy from Vassar College, taught at a girls’ school for a few years. She then decided to go back to school herself for civil engineering in 1911.

She was offered full-time work for AT&T as a “human computer,” a human calculator supporting engineers as they built the first transcontinental phone line.

During World War I, she led a group of women who did calculations for the Transmission and Protection Engineering Department. She continued taking classes in radio and electrical engineering. At war’s end, she enrolled at MIT and received her master’s degree in 1919 in electrical engineering. She was the first woman to earn a master’s degree in electrical engineering from the prestigious institution.

Clarke worked as an engineer at General Electric from 1919-1945. In 1921 she received a patent for a graphical calculator, used to solve electric power transmission line problems. It was known as the “Clarke Calculator.”

In other firsts, she was the first woman to deliver a paper before the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (now known as the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers, or IEEE). In 1947 she achieved another first by becoming the first female electrical engineering professor in the United States to teach at the University of Texas.

In 1948 Clarke became the first woman elected as a Fellow of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. In 1954 she received the Society of Women Engineers Achievement Award “in recognition of her many original contributions to stability theory and circuit analysis.”

Clarke died at the age of 76 in 1959, but all her accomplishments are still recognized. Her work as an electrical engineer was important in the development of smart grid technology. 

Sources:

https://www.engineergirl.org/125222/Edith-Clarke

https://mathwomen.agnesscott.org/women/clarke.htm

 

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