Wednesday, 23 July 2014

WISE: Emily Warren Roebling

Emily Warren Roebling was born on the 23rd September 1843 in New York and was the second youngest of twelve children. She was close to her older brother Gouverneur Kemble Warren, who eventually became a general in the United States Army. When Roebling was fifteen years old, her brother had decided to enroll her in the Georgetown Visitation Convent in Washington D.C. Here she studied a wide range of subjects that included French, algebra and geography as well as piano and tapestry. 


In the February of 1864, Roebling had travelled to visit her brother at an army camp. It was whilst on this trip that she found a young officer named Washington Roebling, who had been serving under her brother during the Civil War. After eleven months of keeping in contact with each other once she had left, the pair were married in 1865. After the war was over Roebling and her husband travelled Europe to study caissons which are used on bridges. Whilst she was overseas Roebling gave birth to her first and only child. John August Roebling II in 1867

Her father-in-law at this point had been planning and undertaking a huge mission that would see a bridge that'd connect Manhattan and New York in construction. On the couple's return, Roebling's father-in-law passed away from tetanus. During the construction of the actual bridge, her husband ended up falling ill and was bed ridden. It was at this point that Roebling stepped in and became the "first woman field engineer" and overlooked the completion of Brooklyn Bridge. 

She was the only person that visited her husband whilst he was ill, due to this she ended up relaying information from her husband to his assistants and reported on the progress of the construction of the bridge. Through her husband's teachings Roebling had developed an extensive knowledge of strength of materials, stress analysis, cable construction, and calculating catenary curves. Her knowledge had been complemented by her interest in and study of the bridge's construction when her husband had become Chief Engineer for the bridge. 

Over the next fourteen years, Roebling became determined in seeing the completion of the bridge. She had taken over a lot of the chief engineer's duties, which included the day-to-day supervision and project management. Together with her husband, the Roebling's planned the bridge's continued construction. Roebling had dealt with the politicians and competing engineers. 

At last in 1883 the construction of Brooklyn Bridge was completed and Congressman Abram S. Hewitt said that the bridge was "an everlasting monument to the sacrificing devotion of a woman and of her capacity for that higher education from which she has been too long disbarred." Due to her dedication to the bridge, Roebling was the very first person to cross it at its opening on May 24th 1883. 


Roebling had accomplished much more in her life though, such as obtaining her law degree from New York University's Women's Law class which she had enrolled in in 1899. However, four years later, Roebling's health had started to decline and she passed away on February 28th 1903. 

Emily Warren Roebling took a leading role in the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge and did not give up. There's now a plaque on the bridge that is dedicated in memory of herself, her husband and father-in-law. 

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