Elmina Wilson Biography
(First Lady of Structural Engineering)
Elmina Wilson was the first woman to receive a four-year civil engineering degree (BSCE) from Iowa State University (ISU). Even though she was not the first woman in America to receive a civil engineering degree, she was definitely the first one to complete her master’s in the same field and embark on an engineering career. Her younger sister Alda also followed in her footsteps to complete her degree in civil engineering from the same university. The daughter of successful farmers, Elmina along with her other siblings was always encouraged to pursue education. She grew up during a vibrant period in the country’s history, witnessing the completion of the historic St. Louis Bridge in 1874 and of Chicago’s first skyscraper, the Home Insurance Building, in 1885. These incidents are believed to have influenced her decision to study civil engineering, a field that was thought unsuitable for young girls in the 19th century. With the whole-hearted support of her family, Elmina completed her university education and established herself as a successful career woman—a rarity for women of her times. She had begun working as a student, spending summers in architectural and engineering companies in Chicago and eventually became a full-time college professor of civil engineering.