Engineer of the Week No.105: Elisa Leonida-Zamfirescu, Dipl. Ing., MAGIR (10 November 1887 – 25 November 1973)
On her 132nd birthday we celebrate the life and work of Europe’s first female career engineer, Elisa Leonida-Zamfirescu.
Elisa Leonida was one of the first formally-recognised female engineers in Europe. Due to prejudices against women in the sciences, she was rejected by the School of Bridges and Roads in Bucharest, Romania. However, in 1909, she was accepted at the Royal Academy of Technology in Berlin. She graduated from the university in 1912, with a degree in engineering, specialising in chemistry. Although other women graduated in engineering around this time, and Alice Perry 6 years earlier, Elisa stands out as a woman who had a full career as a chemical engineer specialising in mining geology.
Born in the Romanian town of Galați, her father was an army officer but her grandfather and brother were both engineers. The Bucharest engineering school refused to admit her so she went to the Royal Academy of Technology Berlin, at Charlottenburg and then got her first job as an assistant at the Geological Institute of Romania. During World War 1 she ran a hospital and then married a chemist, Constantin Zamfirescu, with whom she had two daughters.
After the war she returned to the Geological Institute, where she undertook field studies, including some that identified new resources of coal, shale, natural gas, chromium, bauxite and copper. She rose from assistant to the head of a group of 12 laboratories, investigating ore and water quality, and produced thousands of analytical reports, as well as published papers on bauxite and chromite. Other investigations included germanium content of coal and other ores and additives for mineral oils based on acrylic resins. Many of the national standards for analytical work which she drafted are still in use today. She also taught in a girls’s school and at the Bucharest School of Electricians and Mechanics. Elisa was the first female member of AGIR association of Romanian engineers but in later life she devoted a lot of her energy to campaigning against nuclear weapons. As well as various honours during her life, there is now a national prize for women in science and engineering, as well as a street in her birthplace, named after her. In 2018 she had a Google Doodle on her 131st birthday.