Kate Gleason – Women’s History Month Day 4

Today our incredible woman holds the title of the first female engineer. In a time when engineering schools wouldn’t admit women, Kate Gleason found a way. Even better, Kate was from our very own Rochester.

Born Catherine Anselm Gleason, Kate was born into a mechanical family. Her father owned a machine shop and at a young age she started her education by studying books about machines and engineering.

At age 11, she stepped in to help her father at his shop after her oldest brother, his primary support, died of typhoid. In a time when this would’ve naturally be met with resistance, some researchers believe he let her help without protest due to her mother’s friendship with none other than Susan B. Anthony, famed women’s rights advocate.

Eight years later, Kate entered the Mechanical Arts program at Cornell as the first woman to enter the engineering program. Unfortunately, she was never able to complete her degree. Soon her father’s shop faced some financial troubles so she returned to Rochester to assist him.

This didn’t stop her from earning the title of engineer. She continued to seek out education when she could, including class at the Sibley College of Engraving and the Mechanics Institute, now known as the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Within a few years, she helped expand the company into Europe, one of the first American manufacturers to do so. These international sales remain a core portion of their business.

Today, Gleason Corp. is a top provider around the world of the technologies, machines, and tools used to make the gears found in almost anything you can imagine, including power tools, vehicles, wind turbines, and airplanes. This is largely because of the work she and her brothers did to help expand the business.

Her career didn’t stop at helping her father’s shop. As World War I broke out, the president of the First National Bank of Rochester left to go serve, leaving the space wide open for Kate. She was the first woman to serve as the president of a national bank without family ties.

In this role, she drew on her engineering knowledge and began to think about low-cost housing options for workers. After developing a new pouring method, her work grew into a model for the future.

It was in 1918 that the American Society of Engineers elected her as their first female member. Their decision was unanimous given all of her impressive work.

Her legacy continues in many forms, including

  • “The Kate Gleason College of Engineering at the Rochester Institute of Technology became the first engineering school in the country to be named for a woman” (1998)
  • RIT also created the “Kate Gleason Endowed Chair in 2003 for a professor, who among other qualities motivates women in engineering activities and builds ‘upon the tradition of Kate Gleason as a role model for women in engineering.'” (2003)
  • “The American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ Foundation established the Kate Gleason Award recognizing the contribution of distinguished female leaders in the engineering profession” (2011)
  • Quotes via ASME

Read more about Kate Gleason:

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