Interest in Women Engineers’ ‘Firsts’ Continues

An article in the fall issue, “Uncovering the History of the First Women P.E.s,” generated considerable interest and discussion regarding the first women to earn professional engineer licenses. From variations in record keeping across states, to questions on the accuracy of such records, to reflections on the difficulties of determining firsts and the importance of recognizing such achievements, the article, written by SWE Associate Editor Marsha Lynn Bragg, touched a responsive chord.

Based on interviews with SWE member Melinda Luna, P.E., who conducted the research, the article also notes some of the early women who earned degrees in civil engineering. Luna set out to discover the first women P.E.s and civil engineers and uncover their stories in part to challenge notions of what type of person can be an engineer. Pioneering women civil engineers from Central and South America turned out to be among the first.

Responding to the article, SWE Fellow and life member Katherine (KC) Norris, P.E., shared information that illustrates the hurdles of determining firsts. Norris earned her P.E. license in Vermont on June 13, 1977. She writes:

I don’t know about the licensing databases in other states, but unfortunately the one in Vermont contains some very peculiar entries. Using my own record as an example, the field which should show the date my license was first issued instead shows the date it was last renewed, which is clearly way different from the date on the certificate hanging on my wall. The only sure way to locate the first woman licensed in VT is to search by license number and seek the lowest number that appears to have a woman’s name associated with it, since the P.E. licenses are issued in strictly ascending numerical order. I found two women with lower numbers than mine, Alma Guinta (#2339) and Emmy Booy (#3376), both currently expired, but the date fields associated with their licenses also contain the same types of “squirrely” entries that my record does, which means you can’t get a correct date of issue from the database. Perhaps someone in the state’s licensing office has the correct date info, but the only other source I can think of would be the women themselves, who actually have the licensing certificates.

Melinda Luna is committed to continuing her research, and SWE will be sure to report on updates.

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