Engineer of the Week No.26: Rita de Morais Sarmento (11th February 1872 - 28th March 1931)
Today we remember Rita de Morais Sarmento, Europe’s first female professional engineer, on the 88th anniversary of her death.
Rita de Morais Sarmento was the first woman in Europe to obtain an engineering degree and professional certification (Alice Perry (UK/Eire) having gained hers in 1906). Rita obtained her degree in 1894 and professional certification in 1896, from the Polytechnic Academy of Porto, in Portugal. She was the daughter of Anselmo Evaristo de Morais Sarmento, a journalist, publisher and printer and was educated in private schools and then, from the age of 15, at the Polytechnic Academy of Porto. Her two sisters were also pioneering science-oriented girls, but they did medecine, whilst Rita chose the Civil Engineering and Public Works course, which she completed in 1894.
During most of her time on the course she was the only female and at the end she graduated with the best marks, beating the only two other (male) students still on the course. Two years later, on July 30, 1896, she applied to this higher education schoolfor the equivalent of chartered or licenced engineer certification for professional purposes. This was an even more significant first for a woman engineer and attracted a lot of attention from the press. Sadly a combination of her own poor health and marriage in 1898 meant she was only an independent engineer for two years after gaining her professional certification. In 1898, shemarried António dos Santos Lucas, academic mathematician and Engineering Lieutenant and supported her husband in his long professional career. She died in 1931.