In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re taking a look back at early Tri Delta trailblazers—women who were the “firsts” in their fields.
We believe one such trailblazer, Maude Elsa Gardner, St. Lawrence, never received the recognition she deserved for her achievements in math and science and for paving the way for women to enter male-dominated fields in which they were told they “did not belong.”
Maude graduated with a degree in mathematics in 1916. She would go on to pursue a distinguished career in aeronautical engineering, becoming the first woman to join the Institute of the Aeronautical Sciences. As a woman in a male-dominated field during a time when women had a limited presence in the workforce, Maude set out to learn as much as possible about engineering and aeronautics.
From Statistician to Engineer
After graduating from St. Lawrence University, Maude put her mathematics degree to use working as a statistician until the start of World War I. During the war, she began to work for the British Ministry of Munitions of War in New York City as a gauge examiner, later moving to Bliss Company Torpedo Works, where she worked on behalf of the U.S. Navy. Maude focused on process improvement for torpedo gauge standards and laid the testing range at Sag Harbor. Although the work was noisy and dirty, she found it interesting and engaging and decided to pursue further studies in engineering.
Scholarship to MIT
It seems as though nothing could stop Maude from attaining her dreams. In fact, her father refused to pay for graduate studies, but Maude was determined to find a way to continue her education. She worked at night while she studied at New York University and Pratt Institute, later winning a scholarship to study at the aeronautical engineering department of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—a testament to her resilience and talent. While at MIT, she wrote and edited the Aero Digest magazine for extra money.
After the end of the war and during the Great Depression, she expanded her expertise, working for Wright Aeronautical Corp. in Paterson, New Jersey, as a bibliographer, statistician and civil engineering project examiner. She also worked in New York City for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers writing abstracts and reviewing literature.
First Woman of Aeronautical Sciences
Maude’s dedication and contributions to the engineering field were also evident through her involvement in many professional societies, including the British Women’s Engineering Society, which she joined in 1929. She later sat on the governing Council as the American representative and kept up a lively cross Atlantic correspondence until the Second World War. She also joined the Engineers Club of Dayton in 1936 as their first woman member.
Meeting resistance from male colleagues in the aeronautical field, she focused on acquiring knowledge about many different facets of aeronautics and found creative ways to share this knowledge. She created a card index system organizing aeronautical, mechanical and automotive subjects.
Maude also wrote the Technical Data Digest, a twice-monthly publication containing around 300 article abstracts in each issue. Her abstracts were gleaned from technical magazines from the U.S. and Britain, and others she translated from French, German and Italian. As a result of this work, Maude was the first woman invited to join the Institute of the Aeronautical Sciences.
Maude continued to work for the military through the Second World War. Then, between 1941 and 1960, she worked as an aeronautical engineer in the U.S. Navy Bureau of Aeronautics, joining the U.S. Navy’s Bureau of Naval Weapons Technical Library until her retirement in the autumn of 1962. Maude Elsa Gardner died in 1963, leaving a trail for future women engineers to follow.
Still Relevant Today
Throughout her life, Maude persevered against a society not yet ready to accept a woman engineer. Almost a century later, women are still struggling in this battle for equal opportunity and recognition in these same fields. We are so thankful for brave and bold trailblazers like Maude—inspiring us all to continue to lead the way!