By: Virginia Ferris
Women students and faculty have been making their mark on the STEM fields at NC State since the early 20th century. We’ve highlighted a few of these women below. Learn more about the legacy of women in STEM at NC State by exploring our Historical State timeline and our collections!
Mary Elizabeth Yarbrough was the first woman to receive a master’s degree from NC State. Dr. Yarbrough was the daughter of Louis T. Yarbrough, a member of the first class to graduate from NC State (then NC A&M). A graduate of Meredith College, she earned an M.S. in chemistry from NC State in 1927 – the first year the college awarded degrees to women. You can learn more about Yarbrough’s life and legacy in the Mary Yarbrough Papers.
The students in the photo above were part of a group of eighteen women who were awarded fellowships by Pratt and Whitney Aircraft to receive engineering training at NC State College during World War II. Pratt and Whitney committed to employ the women as engineering aides after they successfully completed the 48-week course. NC State was the only school in the South selected for the fellowships.
Frances M. Richardson was the first woman to join the School of Engineering faculty at NC State in 1951. She was a research associate in North Carolina State University’s Department of Engineering Research from 1951-1980, served as associate director of NCSU’s Engineering Operations Program from 1980 to 1983, and joined the faculty of the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering in 1990. Her research focused on the areas of fluid mechanics and infrared imaging thermography. In 1979, she was elected the first president of the Society of Women Engineers, North Carolina Section, and she is a Fellow of the American Institute of Chemists.
Emily Brown Blount of Fayetteville, NC, became the first female student to receive a B.S. in civil engineering from NC State in 1953, and received a profession degree in civil engineering in 1954. She entered a discipline dominated by male students at faculty and entered NC State at a time when relatively few women students were enrolled and the idea of welcoming female students was not universally accepted, as seen in this 1952 article in the Technician. Blount went on to become the first female licensed Professional Engineer in North Carolina in 1960, and in 2007 she was inducted into the North Carolina Transportation Hall of Fame.
Katharine Stinson was the first woman to graduate from NC State’s School of Engineering, earning a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering degree, Aeronautical Option. Stinson was taking flying lessons at the old Raleigh Airport on US-401 when Amelia Earhart flew in for a visit in the early 1930s. When Stinson told Earhart that she wanted to become a pilot, Earhart advised her to become an engineer, a career Stinson pursued in spite of obstacles that prevented most young women from striving for such a degree. Stinson went on to become the first woman engineer hired by the Civil Aeronautics Administration, now the Federal Aviation Administration, and was a lifelong advocate of women in Engineering and the STEM fields. Learn more about Stinson’s legacy in her the Katharine Stinson Papers.