A History of Four Female Chemical Engineering Graduates from the 1930s
Phillips Petroleum Company
Phillips Research Center, 172 PDC
Bartlesville, OK USA, 74004
tel. (918) 661-8747, fax (918) 661-1632
Women have a long quiet history in chemical engineering. Females entered the field of chemical engineering prior to 1930, but there are two complications in researching this time period. First, many chemical engineering schools were combined with chemistry departments until the 1930's. Compared to chemical engineering, women had strong involvement in chemistry starting in the 1890's. It is difficult to separate the students by which were chemists and which were chemical engineers. Second, very little information was kept about the female chemical engineers who graduated prior to 1930.
It is possible to explore the history of women in chemical engineering starting with the 1930's. Among the universities in the United States that allowed female enrollment during the last century, an average of two female graduates per state per decade starts in the 1930's. Then, in 1972 two equal opportunity acts were passed in the United States that opened both higher education and employment to women in all fields. This event has keyed a four decade long trend that continues upward in female enrollment in chemical engineering. The women who first broke the gender barriers in chemical engineering are fascinating. The historical record about these women is sparse, so this paper combines information gathered using interviews with verification of facts from historical records where possible. This paper explores the academic and career experiences of four of these women, all the first female graduates at their universities in chemical engineering in the 1930's.