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A woman who made big waves & built a bridge - Emily Warren Roebling

Emily Warren Roebling is famous for her role as Chief Engineer for 14 years in overseeing and managing the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, which was completed in 1833.

Her husband, Washington Roebling, was a Civil Engineer, and father-in-law, John A. Roebling, designed the Brooklyn Bridge. Emily was a regular at the construction site. She travelled to Paris with her husband and studied underwater construction practices and pressurized chambers for installing the bridge pilings, a new technology at the time. Her husband became the Chief Engineer of Brooklyn Bridge after this father died from tetanus (he crushed his foot during construction).

Shortly after, Emily took over the position of her husband, as ‘First Woman Field Engineer’ after he fell ill and became bedridden. She excelled at managing day-to-day operations and dedicated herself to the completion of the bridge. She became responsible for the project management, relaying the information from her husband to the workers, and carrying out her own studies of technical issues, materials, stress analysis, construction, and calculations.

In 1882, she appeared before the engineers and politicians’ panel to advocate for her husband to remain in charge, which they granted.

In 1883 she became the first person to cross the completed Brooklyn Bridge in a carriage, whilst holding a rooster as a victory sign.

Emily supported many women’s causes, such as the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Committee on Statistics of the New Jersey Board of Lady Managers. She published an essay titled “A Wife’s Disabilities,” which advocated for women’s rights. The street where she lived with her husband while working on the Brooklyn Bridge received her name as an honour.

With thanks - this article was written by Sotira Georgiou.

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