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Edith Clarke

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Edith Clarke

Born: February 10, 1883
Died: October 29, 1959

Edith Clarke, an electrical engineer with expertise in power systems, was influential in the design of dams in the American West. Clarke became the first woman elected as an American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE) fellow in 1948. In February 1926, Clarke had become the first woman to present a technical paper at this predecessor society to the IEEE. The first woman to earn an electrical engineering graduate degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Clarke was also the first woman to teach in the engineering department of the University of Texas-Austin.

Edith Clarke was born in 1883 in a small rural community in Maryland, during a time when it was almost unheard of for a woman to acquire a college degree. Clarke was orphaned at an early age and used her small inheritance to enroll at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. She studied mathematics and astronomy and received an A.B. degree in 1908. In 1912, Clarke became a computing assistant to George A. Campbell at AT&T. During her tenure, she learned a great deal about the theory of transmission lines and electric circuits. In 1918, she enrolled at MIT and earned an M.S. in electrical engineering in 1919.

Clarke worked at General Electric (GE) from 1919 until 1945, originally hired with the job title “computer.” She left GE for one year in 1921 to teach physics at the Constantinople Women’s College in Turkey. In 1921 Clarke also filed a patent for a graphical calculator that was used for solving electric power transmission line computations. In 1922 GE officially recognized Clarke as a salaried electrical engineer.

In February 1926, Clarke became the first woman to present a paper at an AIEE meeting. This paper, “Steady-State Stability in Transmission Systems,” was later published in AIEE Transactions. Clarke later earned the AIEE’s 1932 Best Regional Paper Prize and the 1941 National Paper Prize. Her two volume work, Circuit Analysis of A-C Power Systems, was published in 1943 and 1950.

Clarke retired from GE in 1945 and joined the electrical engineering faculty at the University of Texas-Austin in 1947. After retiring from teaching in 1956, Clarke ;returned to her native Maryland.