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Edith Clarke, a Woman of Many Firsts

By the time Edith Clarke joined The University of Texas at Austin, becoming the first female electrical engineering professor in the U.S., she had already achieved legendary status among her peers: a master’s degree from MIT, the first female electrical engineer at General Electric, the first woman to deliver a paper at the American Institute for Electrical Engineers conference, and not one, not two, but three patents to her name. Edith’s work on transmission was a pre-cursor to what we know today as the Smart Grid. She’s a trailblazer, an inspiration, and she’s one of our Texas Engineers.

⸻ 1883

Edith was born Feb. 10 in Howard County, Maryland. She was one of nine children.

⸻ 1908

Graduates from Vassar with a degree in mathematics and astronomy. Her parents died when she was young. She used the money left to her to go to college.

⸻ 1912

Begins work in New York City at the American Telegraph Company as a computor – a human calculator – helping engineers building the first telephone wires in America. It was here where she developed the Clarke Calculator – a slide rule that enabled engineers to solve equations 10 times faster than before.

Credit: WednesdaysWomen.com

⸻ 1919

Graduates from MIT with a master of science degree in electrical engineering. She is the first woman to graduate from MIT with this degree.

Credit: MIT Museum

⸻ 1919

Invents the Clarke Calculator.

Credit: Engineering and Technology History Wiki

⸻ 1922

Edith becomes the first female electrical engineer in America when she is hired by General Electric.

⸻ 1925

First patent is issued for the Clarke Calculator. This paper tool became an important part of future electrical transmission breakthroughs.

Credit: U.S. Patent office

⸻ 1926

Edith is the first woman to deliver a paper at the American Institute for Electrical Engineers conference.

⸻ 1927

Second patent issued: how much power can be pushed into a power line so it can be used safely at its maximum limit.

⸻ 1937-1938

Publishes papers on how to simplify the analysis of three-phase-circuits; this would become known as the Clarke Transformation or the alpha-beta transformation.

⸻ 1943

Publishes a book on power systems. It continues to be used by both students and working engineers to this day.

⸻ 1944

Third patent: an electrical circuit. The circuit overcame an unbalancing effect between transformer resistance components by altering the values of series capacitors at little to no cost.

Credit: U.S. Patent office

⸻ 1947

Two years out of retirement, Edith Clarke becomes UT Austin’s first female engineering professor when she accepts the associate professor position.

Credit: wikipedia.org

⸻ 1957

Retires (again) to her farm in Clarksville, Maryland as a “gentleman farmer.”

Credit: Daily Texan

⸻ 1959

Edith passes away on October 29, two years after retiring from UT.

Credit: Museum of Innovation and Science Schenectady

⸻ 2015

Edith is inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Credit: National Inventors Hall of Fame

⸻ 2016

UT creates the “Edith Clarke Woman of Excellence Award.”

Credit: Engineering and Technology History Wiki

“There is a future for woman in engineering, and someday the only limitation will be their own lack of ability, as we are fast approaching an age in which men and women will be measured by their worth as individuals.”

-Edith Clarke, Texas Engineer

by Lauren Grant