Engineer of the Wek No.54: Sabiha Rifat Gürayman, BSc (1910 – 4 January 2003)
Today we remember Turkey’s first woman engineer, Sabiha Rifat Gürayman.
Sabiha Rifat Gürayman was Turkey’s first female construction engineer and saw her career as a way to repay a ‘debt’ to Kemal Atatürk, whose revolution in the early 20th century paved the way to modernity for Turkish women. To this day, Turkey has one of the highest percentages of women engineers in the world, due in large part to this revolutionary zeal to modernise the nation in the 20th Century.
Born in 1910 in Manastir, in what was the far west of the Ottoman empire, now part of Albania, she was the daughter of a soldier. Her education was at girls’ high schools in Istanbul and then in 1927 she and Melek Erbul became the first female engineering students at the Higher Engineer's School (now Istanbul Technical University). The students and staff took some while to become accustomed to female students as the school had, until the year before she started, been a military school. During her student years she also took up volleyball, playing with and then captaining the men’s Fenerbahçe volleyball team, leading them to become Istanbul champions in 1929. She graduated in 1933 and her first job was with the Ankara Public Works Directorate, and then the Ministry of Public Works. She worked on designs for schools and other public buildings and in 1935 oversaw the construction of the Kemer Bridge at Beypazarı Village, west of Ankara. This project required her to camp and work in the field, and even wear trousers, which would have been highly remarkable to the rural residents. The startled villagers were so delighted with their new bridge that they renamed it the “Girls’ Bridge”, to honour Sabiha’s work.
She was appointed Chief Construction Engineer in the Ministry of Public Works and undertook her most significant work on the 10-year project to build the Anıtkabir Hürriyet Tower, which is the mausauleum of Turkey’s founding father, Mustafa Kemal Attaturk. Her portrait is displayed in the tower to commemorate her work. She retired in 1963 and her husband died in 1993. Due to her own childhood as the daughter of a soldier, she left all her wealth to the Istanbul Technical University Foundation and Fevzi Akkaya Basic Education Foundation, to provide scholarships to the children of soldiers who died in their nation’s service.