Edith Clarke was the first female graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a degree in electrical engineering (MIT). She was also the University of Texas at Austin’s first female electrical engineering professor. Born into a prosperous family in late nineteenth-century Maryland, she was expected to be a wife, mother, and gracious hostess rather than a career woman. The determined young woman disregarded societal expectations and went on to become one of the most well-known engineers of her generation. She began her career as a teacher after studying mathematics and astronomy at Vassar College. While working in this position, she discovered her true passion for engineering, a field rarely explored by women in the early twentieth century. She studied civil engineering at the University of Wisconsin–Madison for a time but then transferred to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to earn an electrical engineering degree, becoming the first woman to do so. As a woman, she had difficulty finding work as an engineer, but she persevered and eventually became an electrical engineer in General Electric’s Central Station Engineering Department, where she achieved considerable success. After leaving GE, she joined the faculty of the University of Texas at Austin’s Electrical Engineering Department.
Childhood & Adolescence
Edith Clarke was born in Maryland on February 10, 1883, the ninth child in a prosperous family. She was raised in a manner typical of girls her age, with an emphasis on grooming young women for marriage and motherhood.
She attended Briarley Hall, a Montgomery County boarding school for girls, where she studied Latin, English literature, and history. Additionally, she received rigorous instruction in arithmetic, algebra, and geometry, laying the groundwork for her future career.
Orphaned at a young age, she used her inheritance to pay for her education at Vassar College, where she majored in mathematics and astronomy and graduated with Phi Beta Kappa honors in 1908.
Career of Edith
Edith Clarke began her career as a teacher, initially teaching mathematics at a private girls’ school in San Francisco before transferring to Marshall College in Huntington. As a teacher, she recognized that engineering was her true passion and decided to pursue a formal education in the field.
In 1911, she spent a semester studying civil engineering at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. At the end of her first year, she accepted a position as a “Computer Assistant” to Dr. George Campbell, an AT&T research engineer who used mathematical methods to solve problems involving long-distance electrical transmissions.
Along with her job, she attended night classes at Columbia University for electrical engineering. She enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1918 and earned the institute’s first M.S. in electrical engineering the following year.
She began looking for work as an engineer but was unable to secure one due to employers’ aversion to hiring female engineers. As a result, she accepted a position with General Electric as a supervisor of computers in the Turbine Engineering Department. She trained and supervised female employees who calculated the mechanical stresses in turbines.
In her spare time, she worked on her inventions and developed the Clarke calculator, a straightforward graphical device for solving equations involving electric current, voltage, and impedance in power transmission lines.
She took a leave of absence from GE in 1921 and accepted a position as a physics instructor at Constantinople Women’s College in Turkey. She then spent time in Austria, Germany, Holland, and England before returning to the United States.
She was rehired by GE as an electrical engineer in the Central Station Engineering Department upon her return in 1922. She worked diligently for the company for several years before leaving in 1945, happy to have finally gotten the job she deserved.
In 1923, she published her first paper, ‘Transmission Line Calculator,’ and in 1926, she became the first woman to deliver a paper at the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE).
She received a patent for the Clarke calculator in 1925 and at least two additional patents in the following years, one for electric power transmission in 1927 and another for an electric circuit in 1944.
Her two-volume text, ‘Circuit Analysis of alternating current power systems,’ was widely acclaimed by the engineering community and quickly became the standard textbook for new engineers.
She joined the faculty of the University of Texas at Austin’s Electrical Engineering Department in 1947, becoming the country’s first female professor of Electrical Engineering. She was a teacher for ten years before retiring in 1957.
Significant Works of Edith
She patented the Clarke calculator in 1925. The straightforward graphic device was capable of solving equations involving current, voltage, and impedance in power transmission lines. It was a lightning-fast device capable of solving line equations with hyperbolic functions ten times faster than previous methods.
Awards and Accomplishments
Edith Clarke became the American Institute of Electrical Engineers’ first female Fellow in 1948. She was awarded the Society of Women Engineers’ Achievement Award in 1954. In 2015, she was inducted posthumously into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Personal History and Legacies
Edith Clarke died at the age of 76 on October 29, 1959.
Estimated Net Worth
The net worth of Edith is unknown.