Who is the most famous female engineer? Tips on how to become an engineer

  • There have been many important female engineers throughout history
  • They have contributed to some of the biggest engineering projects in history
  • Women have been under-represented in engineering throughout history
  • Scholarships are available to women to encourage them to enter STEM fields

Ever wondered who is the most famous female engineer? Here we have the ulitmate list of 10 famous female engineers and some tips on how to become an engineer if you are a girl. Women in engineering don’t often get the credit that they deserve. They have been instrumental in the building of some of the most recognisable bridges on Earth and creating products that continue to save lives. It’s safe to say that women engineers have definitely helped to shape the modern world that we live in today.

Engineering has been dominated by men since its beginnings, and that still rings true today in 2021. Women have had to overcome obstacles and barriers throughout history in order to make their mark, such as developing the theory that eventually led to the creation of modern Wi-Fi! In this article, we will go through the women that have made a great impact in the engineering field and how to follow their success. Enjoy!

Famous Female Engineers

Edith Clarke

Famous Female Engineers: Edith Clarke - female engineer Edith Clarke was the first woman to receive an electrical engineering degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She worked with General Electric from 1919 to 1945, where she became a salaried employee after just two years of being employed at the company. This was a great achievement for a woman at this time and she was the first woman to be professionally employed in the United States as an electrical engineer. She was also the very first electrical engineering professor in the US and thus a recognised and famous female engineer. She was a specialist in the analysis of electrical power systems.

Lillian Gilbreth

Famous Female Engineers: Lillian GilbrethLillian Gilbreth was an American industrial engineer, psychologist, educator and consultant who was known for her psychology based approach to time-and-motion studies. She was affectionately known as a “genius in the art of living”. Gilbreth was one of the first women to receive a Ph.D., and is widely regarded as the first industrial/organizational psychologist. Both her and her husband Frank Gilbreth, were experts in efficiency who greatly contributed to the field of industrial engineering, focusing on human factors and motion study. An interesting fact is that the book “Cheaper By The Dozen” was written by their children, and was based around their life and later made into a feature film! So she wasn’t only a  famous female engineer but was also immortalised in the book.

Martha Coston

Famous Female Engineers: Martha-Coston-inventor-engineerMartha Coston was an American businesswoman and inventor that invented the Coston flare, a flare system used for signaling when at sea, and was the owner of the Coston Manufacturing Company. She was left a widow at just 21 years old, with four children to feed. She found a design for a pyrotechnic flare that her husband had left behind, and based her work off of this to create a signal flare that would actually work. Coston worked on this project for nearly 10 years to perfect the flare so that it would be bright, last a long time and could be multiple colours. She was awarded her patent in 1859, and received a whopping $20,000 from the US Navy for the rights to the flares – this is over 600,000 in today’s money! This was groundbreaking for a woman at the time and undoubtedly a vastly successful and famous female engineer.

Stephanie Kwolek

Famous Female Engineers: Stephanie-Kwolek-engineer-scientist
Source: wikipedia.org

Stephanie Kwolek was an American chemical engineer who is famous for inventing Kevlar. She was originally of Polish heritage and worked at DuPont for more than 40 years. She discovered poly-paraphenylene terephthalamide, the first family of synthetic fibres that had excellent stiffness and strength. DuPont awarded Kwolek their Lavoisier Medal for her outstanding discovery. She is the only woman to have ever received that honor! Kwolek received multiple awards in the polymer chemistry field, including the National Medal of Technology. Undoubtedly, she is one of the most prominent female engineers in the chemistry field.

Hedy Lamarr

Famous Female Engineers: Hedy-Lamarr-female-inventor-engineerHedy Lamarr was an American actress, film producer and inventor, who was originally born in Austria. She starred in 30 movies over a 28 year time period, with her biggest success being cast as Delilah in the movie “Samson and Delilah”. When World War 2 began, composer George Anthiel and Lamarr created a radio guidance system that used frequency-hopping spread spectrum technology. This was intended for Allied torpedoes, in an attempt to get past the jamming of the Axis powers. The US Navy did not use Lamarr’s creation until 1957, but they did use Bluetooth and spread-spectrum methods to emulate legacy versions of Wi-Fi.

Famous Female Mechanical Engineers

Ada Lovelace

Famous Female Engineers: Ada LovelaceAugusta Ada King (Countess of Lovelace) is probably one of the most famous female mechanical engineers. She was an English writer and mathematician, primarily known for her contributions to Charles Babbage’s mechanical general purpose computer, called the Analytical Engine. She was the one to point out that the computer had many applications that scanned far beyond just calculations, and she also published the initial algorithm for the computer, which is widely known to be the first computer program. She adopted the mindset of “poetical science” which led her to pose questions regarding the Analytical Engine analysing how society and individuals relate to technology.

Alice Parker

Famous Female Engineers: Alice H ParkerRelatively little is known about Alice Parker’s life, not even the year she died is known for sure. She was an African American inventor who became famous for her patent for creating a central heating system that used natural gas. Using natural gas to power a heating furnace was a very futuristic idea in the 1920s, which conserved significant amounts of energy and eventually became the heating systems that are in most modern homes. Go Alice! Before Parker came up with the idea, wood and coal were used to power heating systems, which were rudimentary when compared to Parker’s design.

Emily Roebling

Famous Female Engineers: Emily RoeblingEmily Roebling (born in 1843) is one of the very first female mechanical engineers. She was an engineer primarily known for her work on the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. Her husband Washington Roebling (a civil engineer and chief engineer on the Brooklyn Bridge project) had contracted caisson disease, so Emily decided to pick up where he left off.  She was the only person in contact with her husband when he was ill. This resulted in her picking up extensive knowledge of stress analysis, material strength, calculating catenary curves and cable construction through her husband’s teachings. During this time, she fought for her husband to keep his title as chief engineer on the project by attending various meetings of politicians and engineers to give speeches in defense of him. What a woman!

Sarah Guppy

Famous Female Engineers: Sarah-Guppy-famous-female-bridge-engineerAnther inspiring woman for modern female mechanical engineers, Sarah Guppy was an English engineer and the very first woman to receive a patent for a bridge in 1811. She also designed and invented a multitude of products for a variety of applications. The bridge Guppy designed in 1811 was a chain bridge (suspension bridges built with chains), however this bridge was never constructed.

Her other achievements include the development of methods for the creation of safe piling for bridges, contributions and consulting for the Great Western Railway, a method of keeping ships free of barnacles, and many more including a bed with built-in exercise equipment! She also gifted Thomas Telford the use of her patented design for suspension bridge foundations, for absolutely nothing!

Tabitha Babbitt

We’d like to close our list of the prominent female mechanical engineers with Sarah “Tabitha” Babbitt who was an American inventor and tool maker. Some of Babbitt’s many impressive inventions include the spinning wheel head, false teeth, and the circular saw. As the story goes, Babbitt was watching two men struggle with a two-man whipsaw, when she realized that this method was very inefficient and half of the men’s energy was being wasted. The circular saw was invented by her as a solution to this problem, and the very first model can be seen in Albany, New York. She was also a member of the Harvard Shaker community.

Facts and Questions About Women in Engineering

What percentage of engineers are female?

Females have always been in the minority in the engineering field since its beginnings. In general, around 13% of the engineering workforce are women, and 20%-22% of engineering undergraduates are female.

What percentage of mechanical engineers are female?

About 14.2% of mechanical engineers are female, however this gap is always closing in mechanical engineering as MIT reported in 2017 that 49.5% of their mechanical engineering undergraduates were women. You can also see how 2020 impacted mechanical engineering here.

Which engineering is best for females?

“Best” is quite a subjective word and a career in any engineering field could be considered best by a certain amount of female engineers. If by “best” we mean highest-paying, then the chemical engineering field has proven to be the highest-paying for women, and the electrical engineering field is also known to be popular to females.

Can a woman be a mechanical engineer?

The number of female mechanical engineers has been increasing in the last few decades, however there are still some obstacles for women working in any STEM field, like inequality in the robotics field. Women leave at every stage throughout the STEM journey, from elementary school all the way through to the workplace. Steps are being taken to introduce more women to STEM from a young age.

Why aren’t there many female mechanical engineers or designers?

From interviews conducted by iMechE, women engineers have reported that females leave engineering due to being treated unfairly compared to their male counterparts, lack of promotion opportunities and uncomfortable encounters with male co-workers in the workplace. More on this can be found in our article here.

How To Become an Engineer?

It is said that one does not choose engineering, engineering chooses you. Well, that isn’t said at all, but it is a common thought that you are either cut out for engineering or not. That, in our opinion, is not true. Countless prospective engineers (many of them female) play down their chances of being successful in engineering because of the high level of maths and physics that are expected during engineering courses and throughout engineers’ careers.

That being said, these aspects of engineering can be overcome if they are not your strong points, and you can definitely follow your passion. You can start by finding the strain of engineering that you are most passionate about, and researching as much as you can to ensure that it is the right path for you. These articles might help you to narrow it down:

Next you will have to start looking for undergraduate engineering courses and their entry requirements. Check out these articles for some ideas and useful information:

famous female engineer: how to become one

If there are scholarships available in your chosen university, then by all means aim for them! Once you can fulfill the requirements and get into your desired university, then you will begin your engineering education. Once you have completed your undergraduate program, you can begin working in the engineering field, and it is a personal choice whether to obtain a master’s degree or any other certifications or qualifications.

Licensing will have to be obtained if you want to sell your engineering services directly to the public, i.e. start your own company. There are many roads that can be chosen when working in engineering, but once you follow your passion and make educated decisions, it will be a very rewarding career!

Next, start looking for a job! Check out our Mechanical Engineering Jobs Board.

Books about Engineering for girls

female-engineers-women-in-engineering-books

If you are a girl interested in engineering, here’s a list of books you may find inspiring and informative:

International Women in Engineering and Science Days

Another great way to learn more and get inspired is to participate in the activities tied to the special days dedicated to celebrating women in science and engineering. Some of these days include:

International Day of Women and Girls in Science – February 11

The International Day of Women and Girls in Science is a day recognizing the essential role that girls and women play in technology and science.

Women in Engineering Day – June 23

Women in Engineering Day is an international awareness campaign that celebrates the work and achievements of female engineers. This day is a very important opportunity to raise the profile of women engineers and highlight the excellent opportunities available.

Top 8 Women in Engineering Scholarships

There are many scholarships available for women in engineering, all over the world. Below is a short list of women in STEM scholarships and those focusing on engineering specifically:


Check out our Mechanical Engineering Jobs Board.

More about mechanical engineering careers:

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