Considered one of the most influential woman in engineering, Kate Gleason was an American engineer and businesswoman known both for being an accomplished woman in the predominantly male field of engineering and for her philanthropy. Her unconventional attitude and approach to business and engineering made her a pioneer in the field and paved the way for a growing number of women engineers.
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Born Catherine Anselm Gleason on November 25, 1865 in Rochester, New York, she was the oldest of four children of William Gleason and Ellen McDermott Gleason, immigrants from Ireland. Her father, the owner of The Gleason Works, a machine tools company, played an important role in cultivating her interest in engineering.
Based on her experience working with employees, Gleason developed an interest in providing low-cost housing for them. Using her engineering skills, she came up with new designs for affordable housing, developing a new concrete pouring method for the construction of housing. In 1921, Gleason authored “How a Woman Builds Houses to Sell at a Profit for $4,000,” for the trade magazine Concrete.
Kate Gleason never married. When she died in 1933 she left behind an estate and $1.4 million dollars. As per her wishes, Rochester Institute of Technology was given 11 acres of her estate along with an estimated $57,000.
In 1998, the Rochester Institute of Technology named its engineering college the Kate Gleason College of Engineering. It remains the only engineering school in the world named after a woman.
The ASME Foundation established The Kate Gleason Award in her name in 2011 to recognize the contribution of distinguished woman leaders in the field of engineering.
As Gleason’s tale shows, woman find ways to develop their knowledge and skills in spite of the hurdles they face. Woman who wish to get into engineering can take inspiration from her life and accomplishments.