Who was Nora Stanton Blatch Barney?
Nora Stanton Blatch was the first woman to become a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers. In 1905, she became the first woman to graduate from Cornell University with a Civil Engineering degree. While receiving a formal education was still uncommon for American women in the early 20th century, she went further by embarking on an engineering career and worked for the American Bridge Company and for the New York City Board of Water Supply. As the daughter of women’s rights activist Harriot Stanton Blatch, Nora inherited her mother’s passion for the cause. Along with her hectic career, she was also deeply involved with the women's suffrage movement. She was once married to Lee De Forest, who invented the radio vacuum tube. Being his wife, she worked for his company until the couple separated and eventually divorced because her husband was intimidated by her independent spirit and professional ambition. She re-established her career after her separation and worked for the Radley Steel Construction Company and the New York Public Service Commission. She also began working as an architect while remaining active on the women’s rights movement as well, becoming the president of the Women’s Political Union in 1915.
Childhood & Early Life
Nora Stanton Blatch was born on September 30, 1883, in Basingstoke, Hampshire, England to William Blatch and Harriot Stanton. Harriot was a prominent suffragist. Nora’s maternal grandmother Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a pioneering women's rights activist.
As the daughter of a well-known feminist, Nora received a good education and was encouraged by her parents in her intellectual pursuits. In 1897, she began studying Latin and mathematics at the Horace Mann School in New York.
Her family moved to the United States in 1902. Nora was interested in studying engineering, a field women seldom ventured into in the early 20th century. She went to Cornell University and graduated in 1905 with a degree in civil engineering. The same year, she was accepted as a junior member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), becoming the first woman to do so.
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Nora Stanton Blatch began her engineering career working for the New York City Board of Water Supply. She also worked for the American Bridge Company in 1905–06.
During this time she became acquainted with Lee De Forest, inventor of the radio vacuum tube, and entered into a romantic relationship with him. She then quit her job and took classes in mathematics at the Columbia University so that she could assist De Forest in his work.
She married De Forest in 1908 and began working for his company. On their honeymoon to Europe, the couple demonstrated De Forest’s radio equipment to potential buyers.
The marriage, however, did not last long as De Forest wanted her to set aside her professional aspirations and become a conventional housewife. This was not acceptable to the fiercely independent Nora Stanton and she left her husband. She was pregnant with their daughter at the time of their separation.
In 1909 she began working as an engineer for the Radley Steel Construction Company. She eventually divorced her husband and continued with her engineering career.
She found an appointment with the New York Public Service Commission as an assistant engineer. During this time she also explored job opportunities in the field of architecture and proceeded to work for the Public Works Administration in Connecticut and Rhode Island as an architect, engineering inspector and structural-steel designer.
Always an independent-minded woman, Nora Stanton was dedicated to the women’s rights movement in addition to managing her career. Following in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother, Nora campaigned heavily for the cause of women’s suffrage from 1909 to 1917. She became the president of the Women’s Political Union in 1915.
In 1916, she applied to the ASCE for an upgrade to associate membership since she had passed the age limit for junior status. Her request was denied solely on the basis of her gender. She proceeded to file a lawsuit against the ASCE which she eventually lost.
She remarried and moved to Greenwich, Connecticut, where she worked as a real estate developer. She also remained involved with political and women’s rights activism till the very end, authoring pamphlets such as ‘Women as Human Beings’ (1946).
Awards & Achievements
In 1905, Nora Stanton Blatch became the first woman to be accepted as a junior member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).
She was posthumously advanced to ASCE Fellow status in 2015, an honor she was deprived of in her own lifetime.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1908, Nora Stanton married the prominent inventor Lee de Forest. The marriage however broke down quickly as her husband expected her to become a conventional housewife instead of pursuing her professional ambitions. The couple separated within a year of their marriage and divorced in 1911. One daughter was born from this marriage.
Her second marriage was to Morgan Barney, a marine architect, in 1919. This marriage resulted in the birth of her second daughter.
She remained active throughout her life and breathed her last on January 18, 1971.