Catherine (Kate) Gleason
(1865–1933) Kate was born in Rochester, New York. Her parents were Irish immigrants and ardent women rights advocates. Her mother, Ellen, was friends with Susan B. Anthony. Kate Gleason led the kind of life that Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton dreamed would come true someday as the result of their work. To begin, in 1884, she attended Cornell University, a school that opened its doors to women due to Susan B. Anthony’s efforts.
Equally significant, Kate was the first woman to enroll in their Mechanical Arts engineering program. It was extremely rare for women to enter the engineering profession. According to the Society for Women Engineers, “. . . it was rare for more than one woman a year (if any) to receive an engineering degree nationwide from 1876 until 1900.”
She did not graduate from Cornell, having to return home to Rochester to assist in her father’s machine shop business. However, she continued to take engineering classes at Sibley College of Engraving and the Mechanics Institute, later to become the Rochester Institute of Technology. With the winds of the women’s rights movement at her back, Kate continued to become “the first” in many areas. With her confidence, keen business acumen, and engineering knowledge, she became the company’s first global sales woman, bringing in European business. Gleason Works exists to this day as a global provider of gear-cutting equipment.
It is reported that Kate was the first woman to be appointed a receiver of a company in bankruptcy. She led Ingle Machine Company of East Rochester, New York out of bankruptcy, paying off its debts in eighteen months and returning it to profitability. In 1918 she was the first woman member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
Kate continued her work in roles traditionally held by men. She developed affordable housing for the working class by deploying mass production efforts and a unique concrete method that she developed. She continued her work in housing development, helping to rebuild a French village after World War 1, and starting building projects in California and South Carolina. As a fitting tribute to women’s rights, she and her father hosted a grand (and what was to be the final) birthday party for Susan B. Anthony in 1906. And in 1912 Gleason contributed $1,200 to the National Woman’s Suffrage Association. The amount was one of its largest pledges. In 1998, the Rochester Institute of Technology named its engineering school the Kate Gleason College of Engineering, the first college to name an engineering school after a woman.
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