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Posts tagged: Women’s History

Mar 27 2017

Two Special Collections Exhibits in the D.H. Hill Library

If you have walked through the D.H. Hill Library’s Ask Us lobby any time over the past week, you may have noticed a glass display case and a large mobile monitor off in the southwest corner. These are the latest exhibits put together by the Special Collections Research Center, celebrating both Agricultural Awareness Week and Women’s History Month.

Special Collections Exhibits

Special Collections Exhibits

In the display case is a sampling of agricultural extension material from the 1910s to the 1960s, all recently digitized as part of the “Better Living in North Carolina” project. The items in this case range from a pamphlet instructing readers on how to grow and sell Christmas trees to a schematic detailing the construction of an automatic swine watering machine. There are even a few items explaining to North Carolina’s farmers that an increase in their produce and meat production could help win the Second World War. The “Better Living in North Carolina” project is collaboration between NCSU Libraries and the F.D. Bluford Library at North Carolina A&T State University. It seeks to make available online thousands of resources documenting the agricultural economy of North Carolina and its transformation throughout the twentieth century, spurred by the innovation and research of the Cooperative Extension Service.

North Carolina Agricultural Extension Service Annual Report 1948

North Carolina Agricultural Extension Service Annual Report 1948

Up on the monitor is a digital exhibit showcasing women in cooperative extension work. This material comes from the “Better Living in North Carolina” and “Green ‘N’ Growing” projects. We’ve put together a collection of photographs and pamphlet covers which depict the wide array of work that women have done as part of the cooperative extension initiatives, usually through home demonstrations. One of the photographs in the exhibit shows a woman leading a demonstration on the nutritional value of milk for children, and another depicts a home demonstration agent instructing people on financial management. There is also a pamphlet which gives instructions on how to properly streamline the dishwashing process to cure their “dishpanitis.”

Group of Women Attending a Home Demonstration Event

Group of Women Attending a Home Demonstration Event

All of these items and more can be seen in the Ask Us lobby of the D. H. Hill Library, so if you have not seen the exhibits yet, check them out today! The exhibits will be up through Sunday, 2 April. The content of these exhibits is available as part of the NCSU Libraries’ Rare and Unique Digital Collections, which provides access to thousands of imagesvideoaudio recordings, and textual materials documenting NC State history and other topics. While you’re at it, check out the Historical State timeline on the Cooperative Extension Service.

Jan 23 2017

Wolf Tales Receives 2016-2017 Diversity Mini-Grant

We’re happy to announce that the SCRC’s mobile oral history program, Wolf Tales, has received a 2016-2017 Diversity Mini-Grant from the NCSU Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity (OIED). As described in this announcement from NCSU Libraries, the grant will support focused outreach to campus groups to document the voices of historically underrepresented students at NC State.

Shima Idries and Shamms DiarBakerli, Wolf Tales recording, 5 May 2016

Shima Idries and Shamms DiarBakerli, Wolf Tales recording, 5 May 2016

In its first year Wolf Tales has captured 41 recordings with a diverse range of voices, from current students to alumni of the class of 1943. The Wolf Tales video recordings and transcripts are archived and shared online through the Libraries’ Rare & Unique Digital Collections site. The Libraries has brought Wolf Tales recording stations to events ranging from annual reunions of the NCSU Alumni Association to “open days” in the Libraries where participants are invited to sit down individually or in groups of 2-3 people to make a 10-20 minute recording.

Student and alumni participants in the first year of Wolf Tales recordings.

Student and alumni participants in the first year of Wolf Tales recordings.

Having partnered with the African American Cultural Center to record student and alumni voices at Harambee! 2016, Wolf Tales will work with other campus organizations that support current and former students whose experiences have not been fully represented in written documentation, including in African American, LGBT, military veteran, Muslim, Latinx, and Native American communities.

Elwood and Diane Hill Becton, at the African American Cultural Center's Harambee 2016, 8 September 2016

Elwood and Diane Hill Becton, at the African American Cultural Center's Harambee 2016, 8 September 2016

Cynthia M. Sharpe, Destinie Statum, and Jakini Kauba at Harambee! 2016, 8 September 2016

Cynthia M. Sharpe, Destinie Statum, and Jakini Kauba at Harambee! 2016, 8 September 2016

Plans are currently underway to bring Wolf Tales to the GLBT Center’s Lavender Graduation in April 2017 to gather stories of the experiences of GLBT students and their allies. Wolf Tales plans to extend this framework to other underrepresented voices through partnerships with other OIED units and student groups to create a more diverse, inclusive record and to prevent future silences in the archives.

If you’re interested in making a recording or discussing a possible partnership with Wolf Tales, please contact library_wolftales@ncsu.edu, and visit the Wolf Tales website for more information. We are actively seeking partners and would love to hear from you!

Apr 25 2016

Identifying the Stories in Our Collections

As part of several recent outreach events, the Special Collections Research Center has produced giveaway buttons featuring images from our digitized collections. The button images generate awareness of and interest in our collections, and often spark questions about the stories behind the people featured in them.

Button designs featuring women scientists and engineers at NC State.

Button designs featuring women scientists and engineers at NC State.

In particular, a set of buttons we created for the Science Scircus, a recent event on the Brickyard organized by the College of Sciences Director of Public Science Holly Menninger, featured historic images of women scientists and engineers at NC State.  Students and faculty picking up the buttons were excited to learn about the women highlighted on the buttons, and while we know the names and stories of many of these women, such as Emily Brown Blount, the first female student to graduate with a degree in Civil Engineering, and Frances “Billie” Richardson, the first female faculty member in the College of Engineering, others remain a mystery.

We can gather that this woman was working in the College of Textiles in the 1950s.

We can gather that this woman was working in the College of Textiles in the 1950s.

This photograph was likely used in recruiting materials in the 1970s. If there any ideas about the equipment or the possible discipline she would be working in, we'd love to know them!

This photograph was likely used in recruiting materials in the 1970s. If there any ideas about the equipment or the possible discipline she would be working in, we'd love to know them!

As a sampling of the broader collection, the buttons highlight a broader challenge: the images that we place online in our digitized collections often arrive in the archives without detailed identifying information for us to provide users in the form of metadata. However, as we continue to develop relationships with members of the NC State community through our growing outreach program, we create more opportunities to meet users who can provide this information and help us better describe the materials.

As we connect more users with material in our collections, we invite them to share any information they may have that can help us describe them in greater detail.  If you recognize any of the unidentified people, events, or places in our collections, please let us know!

Mar 14 2016

Enhancing Research on Women in STEM

In honor of Women’s History Month, two NCSU Libraries Fellows, Heidi Tebbe and Virginia Ferris, organized an event at the James B. Hunt Jr. Library, co-sponsored by Kathy Titus-Becker and the WISE Village, using the iPearl Immersion Theater to demonstrate how resources at the NCSU Libraries can assist researchers and others wanting to learn more about the legacy of women in STEM at NC State, from its earliest pioneers to today.

SCRC materials highlighted in a visualization in the iPearl Immersion Theatre at the James B. Hunt Jr. Library.

SCRC materials highlighted in a visualization in the iPearl Immersion Theater at the James B. Hunt Jr. Library.

Dr. Christine Grant, Professor of Chemical Engineering and Associate Dean of Faculty Development and Special Initiatives in the College of Engineering at NC State, gave introductory remarks on the importance of advocacy and mentoring to increase diversity in the STEM fields. Dr. Grant became the first African American woman to join the faculty of the College of Engineering at NC State when she arrived in the Department of Chemical Engineering in 1989. In addition to being a leader in her field she is widely recognized for broadening the participation, promotion, and retention of underrepresented minorities in STEM. Dr. Grant is co-editor of the book Success Strategies From Women in STEM.

Dr. Christine Grant gives opening remarks.

Dr. Christine Grant gives opening remarks.

Following remarks in the Duke Energy Hall, Tebbe and Ferris debuted a visualization in the iPearl Immersion Theater, highlighting a selection of materials from key collections on women in STEM in the Special Collections Research Center, as well as more recent institutional data. The visualization featured materials from collections of pioneering women in the STEM fields at NC State, including Mary Yarbrough, Katharine Stinson, Gertrude Cox, Frances M. Richardson, and the NCSU Chapter of the Society of Women Engineers.

Included in these selections were photographs, documents, and oral history clips that offer insight into the experiences and perspectives of these early women leaders in STEM at NC State. A letter from Gertrude Cox offered words of encouragement to a young woman interested in entering the field of statistics in 1959:

The field of statistics is certainly wide open to women. If you are willing to take the mathematics and science courses and then work very hard to get beyond the junior level, there are all sorts of opportunities to go as far as you wish.

- Gertrude Cox, 1959

Katharine Stinson’s collection contains several oral history recordings that allow us to actually see and hear her tell her story, in her own voice.  She tells the story of meeting Amelia Earhart when she was a teenager working at an airport in Raleigh. When Stinson told Earhart that she wanted to become a pilot, Earhart told her to become an engineer instead, so she could be in charge of the planes that pilots flew. With this, Stinson made the decision that she would go to NC State to become an engineer.

Oral history with Katharine Stinson, conducted by Gene Nora Jessen, 1990.

Oral history with Katharine Stinson, conducted by Gene Nora Jessen, 1990.

The interview includes this story and the story of what happened when Stinson arrived at NC State to enroll in the College of Engineering:

After I graduated from high school, I found out that at North Carolina State University they taught Mechanical Engineering with an Aeronautical Option. So I went up to enroll in Mechanical Engineering, Aeronautical Option. When I got there – I guess I was sort of stupid – I didn’t notice that there weren’t any other girls around, but anyway.

When I got up to the place to enroll, this man looked up at me and said, ‘What are you doing here, little girl?’ And I said, ‘I’ve come here to enroll in engineering.’ He said, ‘Girls don’t go to school here. Girls don’t study engineering.’ I said, ‘Oh, I want to be an aeronautical engineer.’ And he said, ‘We don’t take girls here.’

- Katharine Stinson, oral history with Gene Nora Jessen, 1990

The man that Stinson refers to in this excerpt was the dean of the College of Engineering at the time, Wallace C. Riddick. Stinson went to Meredith College and in just one year she earned two years’ worth of academic credit. She returned to apply to NC State and was admitted in 1937 as the first woman student in Engineering. She graduated in 1941 and went on to become a founder of the Society of Women Engineers, the first woman woman engineer hired by the Civil Aeronautics Administration (now the FAA), and a lifelong advocate for women entering STEM fields.

The complete video oral history with Katharine Stinson, conducted by her colleague Gene Nora Jessen in 1990, is available online in our digitized collections.

While these materials and collections provide an important foundation for documenting this important history, it is an area where the SCRC continues to grow and build. Using the high technology spaces at the Hunt Library for this event allowed us to engage the NC State community to create greater awareness of what we have in our collections, and of our efforts to continue to build collections on women in STEM at NC State. We look forward to continuing to build partnerships with students, faculty, alumni, and other members of the community in our efforts to capture an increasingly inclusive and diverse record of the university.

Kathy Titus-Becker and students from the WISE Village discuss the visualization in the iPearl Immersion Theatre.

Kathy Titus-Becker and students from the WISE Village discuss the visualization in the iPearl Immersion Theatre.

Visit go.ncsu.edu/researchwomeninstem for information and resources related to research on women in STEM at NC State University, and contact us if you have questions or ideas about using or building upon these collections.

Nov 11 2015

Welcome to “Better Living In North Carolina”

Rebuilding a Fairland: Report of Agricultural Extension in North Carolina for the Year 1936

Rebuilding a Fairland: Report of Agricultural Extension in North Carolina for the Year 1936

“Better Living In North Carolina: Bringing Science and Technology to the People” is the latest digital collection coming to NCSU Libraries. “Better Living” is a two-year partnership between the NCSU Libraries and the F. D. Bluford Library at the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University designed to increase access and discover-ability of primary source materials from the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service.

There will be up to 511,631 digital objects scanned and made available online which will include reports, correspondence, pamphlets, photographs, scrapbooks, and other media. This project will promote the historical resources of two universities with a proud history in agricultural innovation. To date project staff has uploaded 863 pages of the Cooperative Extension Service Annual Reports from 45 reports.

Annual Report of the Agricultural Extension Service of North Carolina State College for 1940

Annual Report of the Agricultural Extension Service of North Carolina State College for 1940

A glimpse into these annual reports, published between 1933 and 1970, gives a fascinating look into the lives of North Carolina rural farmers from this era.  Radio is seen as the latest educational tool to reach the masses. Young children are encouraged to grow food and work during the second world war. Segregation is evident in the earlier bulletins as the activities of Black farmers are discussed in separate sections within the reports (which may make it easier for today’s researchers to extract information about the history of Black agricultural life in NC). One can also see the need for technological innovation through the extension. Using the 1939 annual report, for example, it is hard to believe at one time only 25 percent of rural NC farms had electricity. The photographs and text reveal the personal life of the agricultural family and role of the state college in disseminating information.

North Carolina Agricultural Extension Service Annual Report 1943 - You Have Met The Challenge

North Carolina Agricultural Extension Service Annual Report 1943 - You Have Met The Challenge

Please return to this collection often as we will upload many, many more historical images from NCSU Libraries and the F. D. Bluford Library. To see these and other extension-related resources, please visit NCSU Libraries’ Rare and Unique Digital Collections, which provides access to thousands of images, video, audio recordings, and textual materials documenting NC State history and other topics.

Oct 13 2015

Women in STEM at NC State

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, 1927.

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.

Instructor Peele Johnson, Virginia Powell of Smithfield, NC, and Caddie Walker of Burlington, NC, studying engineering drawing in defense training, 1942.

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 Richardson, 1950s.

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.

Civil engineering student Emily Brown with surveying equipment, 1951.

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 with students, 1970s.

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.

Student Angela Skelton at scanning electron microscope, 1974.

Carolyn Hunt, wife of Governor Jim Hunt, working in a testing lab in the College of Textiles, circa 1965.

Research Assistant Elizabeth M. Whitener placing slide in Norelco Diffraction Analysis Apparatus in Engineering Research x-ray laboratory, 1956.

Undergraduate student in Agriculture at microscope, working on a research project with Dr. Nusbaum and Dr. Bostian, 1966.

May 26 2015

Mary Yarbrough Papers Acquired

Mary Yarbrough, one of the first women to graduate from NC State

The Special Collections Research Center recently acquired the papers of Mary Elizabeth Yarbrough (1904-1984), one of the first women awarded a degree by  NC State University. The collection contains 24.5 linear feet of correspondence, photographs, publications, music books, newsclippings, photocopies, and artifacts. Most of these materials document Yarbrough’s life and career, as well as her family, the Ellis and Yarbrough families of Raleigh. Items in the collection date from approximately 1850 until 2005.

Not only was Mary Yarbrough one of the first women to receive a degree from NC State, she was also one of the first women to receive a graduate degree when, in 1927, she earned an M.S. in chemistry from the university. In 1941 she received her Ph.D. from Duke University. She was a well-known instructor at Meredith College in Raleigh, serving on the faculty from 1929 until 1972, heading the chemistry and physics department, and finally becoming the assistant director of the cooperative education program.

Louis Yarbrough, father of Mary Yarbrough and member of Class of 1893

The Yarbrough family had an important relationship with NC State during its earliest years.  Mary’s father, Louis, was a member of the Class of 1893, which was the first graduating class of the college.  His family lived in a house on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, and some of the first students who came to the new college in 1889 stayed and ate there.

More information about the Mary Yarbrough Papers can be found in the online collection guide. The collection is open for research in the D. H. Hill Library on the NC State campus.  Access requires at least 48 hours advance notice. Persons interested in looking at the collection should contact Special Collections.

Apr 23 2015

Show and Tell event highlights North Carolina foodways

Cooperative Extension Service publications, North Carolina Farm Bureau Women's Committee handbooks, and other materials on display.

Head of Special Collections Eleanor Brown shows materials to Scarlett Howard, mother of Chef Vivian Howard, and an NC State student.

Special Collections staff arranged a special Show and Tell event in honor of Chef Vivian Howard at the Friends of the Library Spring Meeting on April 7, 2015, bringing together a selection of rare and unique items highlighting the story of North Carolina food, agriculture, and rural empowerment.  Chef Howard, of Kinston NC, is an NC State alum (’00) and the James Beard-nominated star of A Chef’s Life on PBS. Chef Howard and her staff from Chef and the Farmer served a meal of small plates during a conversation about Howard’s career, North Carolina agriculture, and Southern foodways, moderated by Dr. Nancy G. Creamer, NC State Professor and Director of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems.

Over 60 visitors stopped by the Show and Tell event to learn more about the canning labels, recipes, photographs, and farming publications on display. The event showcased the richness of collections like the Cooperative Extension Service Publications, 4-H Youth Development Records, and the North Carolina Farm Bureau Records, that documentthe ways that cooperative extension and home demonstration impacted the way North Carolinians live and eat.

Food was key to home and farm demonstration programs, which largely focused on improving southern crop yields by promoting the latest scientific farming methods. Around 1912, agriculturalist Seaman Knapp developed this hands-on instructional methodology that focused on involving the entire family – not just the farmer – and encouraged the development of rural clubs for homemakers and their children.  Male extension agents from NC State worked with boys’ clubs and farmers, promoting scientific agriculture and business practices that emphasized crop diversification and increased yield.  Female agents, led by founding head of NC home demonstration Jane McKimmon, led girls in Tomato Clubs that instructed them in gardening, canning, and selling food that they produced themselves. Canning allowed women to preserve vegetables, fruits, meat, and juice, providing variety and greater nutritional value in their family’s diet year round, and cooking demonstrations helped women learn to prepare meals from canned goods. Curb markets through home demonstration programs and 4-H clubs also equipped rural women and youth with marketing skills and additional income for their families.

African American home demonstration exhibit with displays of food and marketing.

The “Live-at-Home” campaign, launched by NC State Director of Agricultural Extension I.O. Schaub and actively promoted by Governor O. Max Gardner in 1929, encouraged farm families to grow and conserve their own food, rather than planting nonfood cash crops like cotton or tobacco, and encouraged North Carolina “city folk” to buy their supplies from local farmers as much as possible. A menu from a dinner hosted by Governor Gardner in 1929, featured in the Show and Tell event, recognizes the North Carolina farmers that provided food for this feast. In her 1945 book When We’re Green We Grow, Jane McKimmon wrote of the meal, “Pecans, sorghum and peanut candy with other sweets came from the east, apples and kraut juice from the foothills of the mountains; and sweet milk from the Guernsey breeders’ association, together with the buttermilk from the creameries, almost put coffee, good as it was, out of the running.”

Picnic dinner at a contest for the Little Mill Home Demonstration Club on June 2nd, 1920

This “Live-at-Home” dinner parallels the work of today’s leaders like Vivian Howard and her husband Ben Knight to promote sustainable local farming and to reconnect North Carolinians to their roots through food.  Gardner’s dinner mirrors the meal of locally sourced dishes – including oysters, chicken and rice, cornbread with local cheeses and homemade jams, and a Pepsi float with peanuts – that Howard served the audience.  The communities and stories behind these foods are closely tied to NC State’s extension and home demonstration legacy that is documented and preserved in the Special Collections Research Center.  Projects such as Green N’ Growing and Cultivating a Revolution further highlight this history, and our digital collections hold a wealth of resources about agriculture and food in North Carolina that are available online.

Thank you to everyone who attended the event, and the Special Collections staff look forward to putting together more events like this in the future. To view these collections in person, check out our online collection guides and schedule an appointment at the SCRC by sending an email to: library_specialcollections@ncsu.edu.

Apr 13 2015

Associated Country Women of the World

The Countrywoman newsletter is one of the official publications of the ACWW

A recent addition to the North Carolina Extension and Community Association Records in the University Archives contains a number of materials related to the Associated Country Women of the World (ACWW). The NC Extension and Community Association, which had its beginnings at the 1920 Farm Women’s Convention, coordinates and links Cooperative Extension agents across the state and provides them with a voice for their concerns. The Associated Country Women of the World, it turns out, has been an important affiliate with this North Carolina organization.

The ACWW began at the International Council of Women at Geneva in 1927, where it was determined that various rural women’s organizations around the world needed a way to communicate with each other and share mutual concerns. At a 1933 Stockholm conference, the name “Associated Country Women of the World” was formally adopted, as was a constitution.  The organization’s aims were defined “to promote and maintain friendly and helpful relations between the country women’s and homemakers’ associations of all nations . . . to further common interests of these organizations in the economic, social and cultural spheres, while avoiding political and sectarian questions of a controversial nature, and to encourage the formation of organisations working for such common interests . . . .”

Conference brochure for Perth, Australia

While the home office was based in London, conferences were held every three years in cities all over the world, including Washington, DC, Copenhagen, Colombo (Ceylon – now Sri Lanka), Oslo, Perth, and Nairobi. Visiting these different cities must have been quite an experience for rural women in the early twentieth century who rarely traveled internationally and did not usually encounter different countries, languages, and cultures. Yet despite the differences, these women found common ground on such topics as farming, decorating, charitable activities, and family life. The ACWW remains active today.

Included in the records held by Special Collection are triennial meeting brochures, newspaper clippings, ACWW publications, and meeting minutes. There is a newspaper article describing Eleanor Roosevelt’s speech on Rural Woman’s Day at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. To the 250 women preparing to sail on the Queen Mary to London for the ACWW triennial conference, she said, “They will have an opportunity to leave with the citizens of other countries the desire that we have to preserve the peace of the world.” From only a short time later, however, there is correspondence regarding decisions to postpone conferences during World War II, but some also reveal discussions to maintain the London headquarters during the bombing.

A couple of images of the ACWW can be found in the Special Collections Research Center’s digitized collections. To access records on the ACWW involvement of the NC Extension and Community Association, please consult the collection guide and contact the Special Collections Research Center.

Conference brochure for Killarney, Ireland

Conference brochure for Nairobi, Kenya

Aug 13 2012

Katharine Stinson: “In her own house”

Contributed by Samantha Rich

Katherine Stinson with three students.

Katherine Stinson with three students.


In the early twentieth century many women faced challenges entering historically male-dominated fields at colleges throughout the country. In 1941 Katharine Stinson became the first woman to graduate from NC State College with a degree in engineering. A year later the mechanical engineering major made history again when she became the first woman to work at the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA). A look in the Katharine Stinson Papers, 1937-2001, available from the NCSU Libraries Special Collections Research Center, reveals some of the challenges/stereotypes Stinson faced as a female NC State student and as a woman climbing the career-ladder in a predominantly male field.

Because women were prohibited from entering State College as underclassmen, Katharine Stinson spent a year at Meredith College, where she took an astounding forty-eight hours worth of credit, in hopes of gaining admission to State’s engineering school the following year. When Stinson entered State College in 1937, she was the only female student registered in the School of Engineering. Stinson summarized her experiences and her desire to studying engineering in the May 1940 edition of The Wataugan, State College’s humor magazine. In an article entitled “Meet the Coeds” Stinson stated, “This is a technical school and one which requires hard work from its students, and few girls would enter or remain here unless they were in earnest and sincerely ambitious. So many courses are required which aren’t offered in other schools, and it decidedly would benefit girls who seek to follow their desired work.” The magazine described Stinson as a “quiet, unassuming girl, sincerely interested in her work” and detailed her membership in many student organizations, including the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the State College Flying Club, and the Institute of Aeronautical Sciences.

As the first woman to work at the CAA Stinson received a lot of media attention. The Raleigh News and Observer stated, “The Civil Aeronautics Administration has shattered precedent by employing an engineer who wears a skirt instead of trousers.” By 1942 the CAA had hired three additional female employees, causing Washington D.C.’s Times-Herald to run the headline “’Man-Handled’ Technical Jobs in CAA Turned Over to Women.” The article stated, “Four women in the engineering department of the Civil Aeronautics Administration are doing their best, these days, to prove that it’s no longer a man’s world. With trained male civilians donning uniforms, these four women are holding down-and doing well-jobs which men would occupy in peace times.” This article suggests that women, like Stinson, would not have jobs in skilled technical fields had the demands of World War II not necessitated their presence. Upon her promotion to Assistant Director of the Specifications Department of the CAA in 1946, the News and Observer ran another article spotlighting Stinson as a highly trained engineer. However, instead of printing images of Stinson in her office redesigning airplanes, the N&O ran images of Stinson icing a cake. The article ended stating, Stinson lives “in her own house in Chevy Chase, Md.” The emphasis on Stinson’s home ownership as a single woman suggests that Stinson’s situation was uncommon in the 1940s, perhaps something to be seen as special.

The university recognized Stinson and her successful career in aeronautics in 1997 by renaming North Yarborough Drive in her honor. To learn more about Katharine Stinson or the NC State College of Engineering, please visit the Special Collections Research Center.