Spotlight: Emily Warren Roebling

brooklyn bridge sunset

The Brooklyn Bridge is a marvel of engineering and one of the world’s most famous landmarks. While a large part of its existence can be owed to Washington Roebling, it’s because of his wife, Emily Warren Roebling, that the project reached its completion.

Let’s take a look at the life of Emily Warren Roebling and how her engineering mind produced something truly remarkable.


Early Life

Emily was born to Sylvanus and Phebe Warren on 23rd September 1843 in Cold Spring, New York. The second youngest of twelve children, her interest in pursuing an education, which was unusual for women at the time, was largely supported by her older brother.

She first met her husband, Washington, at a ball during the American Civil War. Washington was the son of Joe Roebling, the designer of the Brooklyn Bridge and he and Emily married on 18th January 1865.


Career

Emily’s career as an engineer emerged from rather unfortunate circumstances. After her father-in-law died from tetanus, Washington took over the responsibility of the Brooklyn Bridge’s construction.

Except that he himself developed decompression sickness, leaving him bedridden for close to a decade. It then fell to Emily to finish her husband’s work and she rose to the occasion admirably, taking over the day-to-day operations and seeing the project through to its completion in 1885.

At one point, her husband’s title as chief engineer was under threat so she went to defend him at a gathering of engineers and politicians so he was allowed to keep it.

After the bridge was finished, she was the first to cross it in her carriage and her work was described as “...an everlasting monument to the sacrificing devotion of a woman and of her capacity for that higher education from which she has been too long disbarred.”


Legacy

As well as the Brooklyn Bridge, Emily went on to fight for women’s rights with an award-winning essay entitled “A Wife’s Disabilities”. For the rest of her life, she remained socially and mentally active, proving her worth as one of the greatest minds in engineering.

Her name, along with her husband and father-in-law, have been put on a plaque on the Brooklyn Bridge itself and remains there to this day.

Has Emily’s story inspired you? Why not become an engineer yourself by starting out as an apprentice?