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STEM Celebrity Spotlight: Edith Clarke

Updated: Feb 3

By Nishita Gudipati


Edith Clarke was born on February 10th, 1883, in a small Maryland town. At the age of 18, she went to Vassar College where she studied mathematics and astronomy. She graduated in 1908 with honors and taught math for a little. Later she redirected her academic pursuits towards engineering at the University of Wisconsin. Subsequently, she pursued a master's degree in electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), achieving a historic milestone as the first woman to earn such a degree from MIT in the field.


As she began to seek work after her studies she realized that women had very limited opportunities in the electrical engineering field, so she went back to working as a computer. During this time she patented an application describing her invention of a graphical calculator to be used in the solution of electric power transmission powers. After this, she took a break from work and taught physics for a year at Constantinople Women's College in Turkey. It was after this brief break and her return to New York that Edith achieved her lifelong goal. She began working as an engineer at the Central Station Engineering Department of General Electric.


This began her journey of opening doors for future women wanting to pursue a career in this field. She was the first female professional engineer hired, the first female accepted as a full voting member of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE), and retired in 1945 and became a fellow of AIEE in 1948. She was the first woman to publish an AIEE paper. In 1941 she and a colleague received the award for “best paper of the year”. Although she had retired, in 1947 she became a full-time professor at the University of Texas, once again being the first woman to teach in the engineering department at this university. She was given the Society of Women Engineer's Achievement Award in 1954 and was selected for inclusion in Women of Achievement in Maryland History in 1998. She retired for good in 1956 and returned to her hometown and died at the age of seventy-six in 1959.


Edith is an inspiration to everyone, especially women, and shows that as long as effort and determination are given, anyone can achieve anything. Edith pursued multiple degrees and contributed immensely to the field of electrical engineering, paving the path for women in the future along the way. Her resilience and determination allowed her to excel and achieve such great things in her lifetime, and she will remain a crucial member in the history of engineering, especially as a female.


Works Cited

“Biographies - Edith Clarke.” Maryland State Archives,

https://msa.maryland.gov/msa/educ/exhibits/womenshallfame/html/clarke.html.

“Edith Clarke Biography for Kids.” Lottie Dolls, 15 January 2021,

https://www.lottie.com/blogs/strong-women/edith-clarke.


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