Kate Gleason was the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ first female member. Despite her lack of formal engineering training, she established herself as one of the few accomplished female engineers of her era. She was also a prosperous businesswoman who served as a role model for many other career-minded women in nineteenth-century America. Intelligent and inquisitive from an early age, she was introduced to engineering concepts when she began assisting her father in his machine tool company, later renamed Gleason Works, at the age of 12. She decided to pursue formal education in this field and became the first female admitted to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, to study engineering. She then attended the Mechanics Institute, which was later renamed Rochester Institute of Technology. She became increasingly involved in the family business over time and was instrumental in its significant expansion and growth. She never let her gender stand in the way of her professional ambitions and traveled extensively throughout Europe in order to expand the company’s business. She became the first woman to serve as president of a national bank when she was appointed president of First National Bank of East Rochester in 1918. Along with her successful career, she was well-known for her charitable work.
Childhood & Adolescence
Catherine Anselm “Kate” Gleason was born in Rochester, New York, on November 25, 1865. She was the daughter of William and Ellen McDermott Gleason. Her father founded a machine tool company that was later renamed Gleason Works.
When she was 11, her stepbrother Tom died of typhoid fever while assisting their father at the company. This created significant difficulties for her father, as he had lost a valuable assistant.
She began assisting her father when she was 12 years old and quickly realized she possessed an aptitude for engineering work. By the age of 14, she had risen to the position of company bookkeeper.
In 1884, she became the first woman admitted to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, to study engineering.
However, she was unable to complete her studies at Cornell due to family obligations. She then attended the Mechanics Institute, which was later renamed Rochester Institute of Technology.
Career of Kate
By 1890, Kate Gleason had been appointed Secretary-Treasurer of the family business. Together with her father, she developed and perfected a machine for producing bevelled gears quickly and affordably.
In 1893, she set her sights on international expansion and embarked on a business tour of Europe. She was able to secure orders from England, Scotland, France, and Germany during her two-month voyage. This journey is considered to be one of the first attempts by an American manufacturer to internationalize their business.
The business continued to thrive, owing largely to Kate’s diligence and steely determination, and eventually became the leading manufacturer of gear cutting machinery in the United States prior to World War I.
In 1913, Kate resigned from Gleason Works due to family conflicts. She then accepted an appointment as Receiver in Bankruptcy for the East Rochester-based Ingle Machine Company.
In 1918, she was appointed President of the First National Bank of East Rochester, another first for an American woman. She had always been passionate about humanitarian causes, and this position enabled her to expand her efforts in that direction.
She founded eight businesses, including one that sold affordable concrete box houses in East Rochester. This work resulted in her becoming the American Concrete Institute’s first female member.
She traveled extensively in her later years and purchased real estate in France, where she assisted a town in recovering from the devastation of World War I.
Significant Works of Kate
Kate Gleason embodied the modern career woman in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America, becoming the first woman to join the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the American Concrete Institute. Additionally, she was the first female president of a national bank.
Contributions to Philanthropy
Kate Gleason bequeathed a sizable portion of her $1.4 million estate to charitable and educational organizations. Libraries, parks, and the Rochester Institute of Technology are among her beneficiaries (RIT). RIT has named the Kate Gleason College of Engineering in her honor.
Awards and Accomplishments
In 1914, Kate Gleason became the first woman to be elected to full membership in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
Personal History and Legacies
She regarded marriage as a hindrance to her career and thus never married. On January 9, 1933, she died of pneumonia at the age of 67.
The Kate Gleason Award was established in her honor by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Foundation in 2011.
Estimated Net Worth
The estimated net worth of Kate is about $9million.