Women in STEM: Edith Clarke
Edith Clarke was born on February 10, 1883, in Maryland as one of nine children in a affluent family. She was orphaned at the age of 12 and was subsequently raised by her older sister. Coming from a wealthy family, she received an inheritance on her 18th birthday and used the funds to enroll at Vassar College where she studied mathematics and astronomy. Clarke graduated in 1908 and immediately took up a teaching job at small, private girls’ school in San Francisco. The following year, she relocated to West Virginia where she taught mathematics and physics at Marshall University (formerly Marshall College).
With her aspirations to become an engineer still on the forefront of her mind, she enrolled in the civil engineering program at the University of Wisconsin in 1911. Clarke left after a year and moved to New York to start working full-time for AT&T as a mathematical “computer.” In the years employed with the telecommunications company, she calculated the first seven terms of an infinite series that represented a probability function. Clarke eventually became the manager of a group of women "computers" who calculated for the Transmission and Protection Engineering Department during World War I. On her nights off, she studied radio transmissions at Hunter College and electrical engineering at Columbia University.
Clarke left AT&T after six years to pursue her passion in engineering. She enrolled in the electrical engineering program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She received her M.S. the following year and became the first woman to receive a degree from that department and institution.
Following her graduation, she picked up a job at General Electric not as an engineer, but as another mathematical computer. In that time, she invented the Clarke calculator which calculated and solved equations about electric currents and voltages in power transmissions lines. Two years later, she was finally hired as an electrical engineer in GE’s Central Station Engineering Department. She left the company in 1945 and spent her retirement teaching electrical engineering at The University of Texas, Austin where she became the first female EE professor in the country.
In 1948, Edith Clarke became the first woman elected to the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (now known as the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers, or IEEE) and in 1954, she received an award from the Society of Women Engineers "in recognition of her many original contributions to stability theory and circuit analysis." She was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2015.
Clarke passed away from natural causes on October 29, 1959 in her final residence in Olney, Maryland.
"There is no demand for women engineers, as such, as there are for women doctors; but there's always a demand for anyone who can do a good piece of work." - Edith Clark