Engineering Woman of the Week No. 47: Elmina T. Wilson BSCE (29th September 1870 - 2nd June 1918)
Today we remember structural engineer, Elmina Wilson, on the 101st anniversary of her untimely death.
Elmina Wilson was born in Iowa in 1870 and was the first woman in America to graduate, with a four-year degree in civil engineering, from Iowa State University in 1892. Amazingly, her sister Alda graduated at the same time from the three-year degree in the same subject. Whilst Alda went in the architectural field, Elmina became a civil and structural engineer, her first job being as an assistant in the school's drawing offices. She was promoted to be an instruction 1893 and in 1895,collaborated on a project with Professor Anson Marston, on the design of the first elevated steel water tower to be constructed west of the Mississippi, now known as the Marston Water Tower, and completed in 1897. After a sabbatical year to study engineering practices in Europe, she got a job with James E. Brooks Company, where her first work was on the Essex Structural Steel Works in Bloomfield, New Jersey. In 1907 Elmina joined the prestigious engineering firm of Purdy and Henderson, skyscraper design pioneers, where she began work on the New York Flatiron Building and later the Met Life Tower. The two sisters also worked together on some architectural designs, including the Helmich House, in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
Elmina also wrote publications for the U.S. Department of Agriculture including a brochure entitled Modern Conveniences for the Farm Home, which included topics such as piping water pumped by a windmill throughout rural homes or adding bathtubs serviced by water pumped from elevated tanks in an attic or pneumatic cylinders installed in basements.
Although she died quite young (48), at an age when she might have been considered to be at the beginning of more important work, she is considered to be the “First lady of American structural engineering”.