What better place to start than the beginning? These days we take it as granted that women in developed nations can study what they’d like at university, money aside of course.
The fount of all knowledge these days, Wikipedia, states that an engineer is one who uses the principles of engineering – namely acquiring and applying scientific, mathematical, economic, social and practical knowledge – in order to design and build structures, machines, devices, systems, materials and processes. Before engineering was recognised as a profession, and definitely before women were able to become engineers through study, they would have been recognised as inventors. Women have been credited with the invention of the hydrometer, the first circular saw (try telling your boyfriend that!), have patented bridge foundation designs and straw weaving methods.
Engineering was first taught in 1784 at the Ecole Polytechnique in France, established to teach military and civil engineering. The United States were soon to follow, establishing West Point Military academy in 1819. The notable Ada Lovelace was privately schooled in mathematics before beginning her collaboration with Charles Babbage. Hertha Ayrton, who helped develop arc lighting studied mathematics at Cambridge but was denied a degree. A similar thing was happening across the ocean as Mary Pennington completed the requirements for a BSc in Chemistry but was a only awarded a certificate of proficiency.
This all changed however at the beginning of the 20th century when a small number of women across the U.S, Britain and Europe began to be accepted to engineering courses. Nora Stanton Blatch Barney received A degree in civil engineering from Cornell University in 1905. Alice Perry (1885-1969)- graduated with first class honours in civil engineering from queens university Galway in 1906. It is generally understood that she is the first women to graduate with a degree in engineering in Ireland or Great Britain.
Over the pond, Elisa Leonida Zamfirescu was accepted at the Royal Academy of Technology in Berlin. She had previously been rejected by the School of Brdiges and Roads in Bucharest, but graduated from Berlin in 1912 with a chemical engineering degree.
Florence Mary Taylor was the lady of the moment in Australia. Born in 1879 She was the first qualified female architect and the first woman to train as an engineer. Not content with these feats, she was also the first woman in Australia to fly a heavier than air craft in 1909, and is best known as a publisher, editor and writer for building industry trade journals which she established with her husband George in 1907.
Looks like we have a bit to live up to…