Swarthmore Women Engineers
by: Kasia Koziol-Dube


Individual Bios


Elsa Palmer Jenkins
Fanwood, N.J.

She was the first woman to graduate from Swarthmore College with a B.A. in Electrical Engineering. Her yearbook entry from junior year includes her qualifications:

1) Can engineer more than machines and figures
2) Can engineer honor committee of student government
3) Engineers hockey stick even better than a slide-rule.

N.B. - It is rumored that she is very much interested in engineering at Cornell.

She married her Swarthmore engineering professor, Howard Jenkins, who later became the Chairman of the Electrical Engineering Department. She became Secretary to the American Secretary of the Rhodes Scholarships at Swarthmore College. There is no evidence to be found that she pursued engineering at Cornell like she stated she was interested in her yearbook. It is also possible that she might have helped her husband in the lab with research as sometimes is the case with married couples with similar interests but I found no evidence.


Ruth Kern
Philadelphia, PA

She first graduated in 1928 with a B.A. from Swarthmore College in mathematics with Honors and then returned and received a B.S. in Electrical Engineering in 1932. She was a General Electric employee since May 1934. She joined the Company and worked in Schenectady, N.J., before going to the Switchgear Departments in 1941. A file also listed her as being a requisition engineer in the marketing section of Power Circuit. I am unsure if Power Circuit is part of the General Electric company or she later switched jobs. She was granted a patent when she was with General Electric and her position was Air Circuit Breaker Section engineer. She received a patent for her invention. Quoted from an unmarked article about her patent, her invention "relates to an improved, interchangeable, inverse time-delay-tripping unit for the thermal air circuit breakers. The construction of this unit is such that it requires a minimum of operative space; and by means of such readily interchangeable bimetallic elements, one design of circuit breaker can be used on any current rating for ten to 200 amperes."


Eleanor Allen

Majored in Mechanical Engineering. Eleanor is another extraordinary woman engineer of her time. She became one of the leading technical writers and editors in the automotive and aeronautic industries. She was managing editor of Transactions of the Society of the Automotive Engineers and the senior technical editor of its SAE Journal. While doing her editorial work, she took after hours LL.B. at Brooklyn Law School which she finished in 1944 and was admitted into the New York Bar in 1945. She practiced her profession for several years at Bendix Aviation Corp. in South Bend, Indiana, and Pioneer Instrument Division in Teterboro, N.J. She came to the Society of Automotive Engineers from the Aircraft Manufacturers Association where she had been a research assistant. She joined the SAE staff in 1942 as a "temporary" replacement for a drafted male - then stayed to scale greater heights than her predecessor. The Dec. 1955 Swarthmore Alumni Bulletin in an article stated that "Her boss says she's a perfect balance of engineer and editor. Neither one wins out to the detriment of the other."

In an August 14, 1962 article from the New York World-Telegram & Sun, Eleanor talks about being a woman in a field considered for men. The article states that "She feels the so-called prejudice of men against women in her field two ways: for and against. 'There are some who are resentful and might try to hold you back, but there also are those who will go out of their way to help, knowing the difficulties you might have.'" To see a complete copy of the article, click the link below.

Her yearbook entry states that "The sole feminine influence in the engineering department she has a yen to carry on her work in Russia after graduation." It seems that she did not go to Russia after graduation to work in engineering, but rather stayed in the Untied States to work.

Olive Hendricks Mayer

Majored in Mechanical Engineering. She is a lobbyist for preserving the environment in California. Based on the Swarthmore College Engineering Newsletter, Swarthmore Data Sheet from March 1961, Mrs. Mayer was involved in engineering as President of Science Education Products Company in Woodside, California. In an article feature in the Swarthmore Alumni Bulletin, it stated that Olive had spent 13 years involved in mechanical engineering and 14 years as an environmentally concerned manufacturer of Science Teaching Products, which she owned. She was named Conservationist of the Year by Peninsula Conservation Foundation in 1993. Her yearbook entry is complementary to her being in the engineering department:

"Ollie's distinctive method of study which proceeds by her jerks and starts, sometimes keeping her up all night is no doubt the result of too intimate association in her daily work with temperamental turbines, for she's Swarthmore's one woman engineer - and one of the most enthusiastic members of the class at that! Coming out from the covering of grease, Ollie takes to the open trail with gusto - rain, wind and unkind elements notwithstanding, or caters to the india-rubber stomachs of her hall-mates with the most delightful and indigestible banquets."


Janet Carpenter Deckert

Majored in Electrical Engineering. Janet went to work at RCA in the Receiving Tube Division in Woodbridge, N.J. She worked there for over 30 years and most of the time was managing engineer. For a period of two years, she was Plant Manager, with approximately 1500 employees. When she retired, she had the title of Engineering Manager, Receiving Tubes.

In the December 1999 Swarthmore Bulletin Archives, Janet Carpenter Deckert, who is the President of Habitat For Humanity in Martin County, FL , is putting her engineering skills to use building homes in the Yucatan, Peru, and Kosovo. More information can be found at: http://www.swarthmore.edu/bulletin/archive/99/dec99/profiles.html.


Evelyn Granat Maier

Majored in Electrical Engineering. Evelyn was listed as an attorney in the alumni directory so it seems that she did not follow an engineering path after college. Her junior yearbook entry mentions that "Lyn lives in a world peopled with engineers...lend her mechanical talents to SN…eats, sleeps, talks radio…" She was part of the accelerated classes during the war years, graduating in February of 1945.


Lisabeth Cromwell Liebermann

Majored in Mechanical Engineering. Lisabeth was listed as an engineer in the alumni directory, but that is all that could be found. She was part of the accelerated classes during the war years graduating in June of 1945. Her junior yearbook entry ends with "…but to top it all, she's one of those brave gals who takes Engineering."


Jane M. Gross Corson

Majored in Electrical Engineering. Through a database search, it seems that her occupation is now librarian. Jane is listed as an estimator in the alumni directory from 1989. Her junior yearbook entry states that she is "the lady engineer in honors."


Tobe Weinshenker Alterman

Majored in Electrical Engineering. Through the Swarthmore database, she is listed as software engineer at Hugin-Sweda International. She had a daughter follow in her footstep and majored in engineering at Princeton based on the Swarthmore Alumni Bulletin. Her yearbook entry describes her as "swarthmore's only femme engineer"


Susan A. Creasey Gertler

Majored in Mechanical Engineering. She is listed as being a teacher at Anchorage Community College through the Swarthmore database. In her yearbook entry, she says "I can fix it with a bobby pin."


Vivi-Ann Hall Lowe

Majored in Mechanical Engineering. She is listed as a Library Technician at the Smithsonian Institution.


Lillian L. Ries Gottler

Honors degree in Engineering Science. In the Swarthmore Data Sheet, a Swarthmore engineering newsletter, it lists that Lillian was studying at Karlsruhe, Germany after graduation. She received a renewal of her National Science Foundation fellowship to continue her studies for the 1962-1963 academic year. She received an MA in mechanical engineering at a foreign institution, possibly in Germany. Later, she received a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Her occupation is listed as assistant professor of mechanical engineering.


Nikki E. Hildum (Downes-Martin)

Degree in Engineering Science with honors. She is currently listed as partner of Downes-Martin Associates, LLC. It also appears through a web search that she works at CapitalWorks, LLC, which could be a company name change from Downes-Martin Associates, LLC. The company website gives information that "She has served in both operational and consulting roles as a project leader, team member, and individual contributor. Nikki is an experienced systems engineer, expert at front end analysis, design, development and operational support of business systems. She has been responsible for the creation and delivery of state-of-the-art software products for corporations such as Digital Equipment Corporation, Honeywell Information Systems, and Raytheon Missile Systems."


Sylvia J. Chin

Degree in Engineering. Her last occupation before her death was patent attorney at Feira Engineering, P.C.


Alexandra Polyzopoulos

She was listed in the Swarthmore database as having graduated with an engineering degree but she was not included in the original list that I got from the Swarthmore Engineering Department. Her occupation is a physic teacher.


Rebecca A. Engelhardt (Pedersen)

Degree in Engineering. She is listed in the alumni directory as an engineer. Her occupation is listed as executive vice president (engineer) for Pedersen & Pedersen, Inc from the Swarthmore Database.


Susan M. Schultz (Tapscott)

Degree in Engineering. Her current occupation is engineer/consultant. She received a M.S. in engineering at M.I.T.


Linda Lee S. Graham (Tonneson)

Degree in Engineering. She is listed in the alumni directory as a homemaker.


Barbara W. Busing (Wachs)

Degree in Engineering. Her current occupation is listed as technical director (engineer) for Northrop Grumman Corporation. She furthered her education in engineering at University of Maryland (Col Pk?). In the May 1993 edition of the Swarthmore Alumni Bulletin, she was involved in engineering management at Westinghouse Electronic Systems Group.


Raphael M. Lioi (Hill)

Degree in Engineering. She is listed in the alumni directory from 1989 as an engineer. Her current occupation is Operations Manager of Kimberly-Clark Foundation. In the Nov. 1995 edition of the Swarthmore Bulletin, she had worked at Scott Paper's new manufacturing facility involved in organizational design, project integration, and maintenance leadership and eventually had an operations role.


Patricia A. Price (McHugh)

Degree in Engineering. Her current occupation is listed as engineer for International Business Machines Corp. She also pursued advanced education in electrical engineering at Florida Atlantic University and University of Virginia.


Susan M. Frontczak Cardwell

Degree in Engineering. Her current occupation is listed as storyteller and consultant. Her further educational studies include a M.S. in software development from the Wang Institute of Graduate Studies (now part of Boston University). She worked for fourteen years as an engineer and manager before switching over to full-time speaking in 1994. Her new career of storyteller, speaker, actor, and writer can be described better by visiting http://www.storysmith.org/. In the Nov. 1981 edition of the Swarthmore Alumni Bulletin, Susan had been a product development engineer at Hewlett-Packard. In the July 1977 issue of the Swarthmore Alumni magazine, there was a special article on the four women engineers to graduate in that year. It mentioned that she had been the recipient of one of thirteen National Science Foundation fellowships awarded to Swarthmore graduates that year. She had been elected to Tau Beta Pi, Sigma Xi, and Phi Beta Kappa. Her NSF grant took her to M.I.T., where she concentrated in biomedical engineering.


Katherine L. Harper

Degree in Engineering. Her current occupation is listed as computer specialist/consultant. In the May 1993 edition of Swarthmore College Bulletin, she was listed as a consulting director for Peritus Software Services in software engineering productivity. In the July 1977 issue of the Swarthmore Alumni magazine, there was a special article on the four women engineers to graduate in that year. The article mentions that she was elected to the Society of Sigma Xi and in 1975 won the Scott Award. This award was given annually to "an outstanding sophomore who plans to enter business after graduation and who demonstrates qualities of scholarship, character, personality, leadership, and physical vigor." She received the McCabe Engineering Award, presented to the "outstanding engineering student of the senior class."


Patricia F. Hill

Degree in Engineering. She actually was a double major and received a B.A. in mathematics. Her current occupation is listed as computer specialist/consultant for Ameritech Corporation. In the July 1977 issue of the Swarthmore Alumni magazine, there was a special article on the four women engineers to graduate in that year. It mentions that she was involved in the Gospel Choir and that she was captain of the Varsity volleyball team. At graduation she was planning on studying mathematics at the University of Michigan, where she ended up getting a M.S. in computer science. In the summer of 1977, she was working for Scott Paper Company, developing mathematical models for their equipment.


Martha A. Sutherlin (Martin)

Degree in Engineering. Martha is currently listed as a homemaker. However, in the Feb. 1980 edition of the Swarthmore Bulletin she was working for IBM in Caracas, Venezuela. In the July 1977 issue of the Swarthmore Alumni magazine, there was a special article on the four women engineers to graduate in that year. The article mentions that Martha had been president of Tau Beta Pi and the president of the student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers. She, also, was elected to Sigma Xi. After graduation, she worked for IBM in Washington, D.C., as a systems engineer in marketing.


Nancy Nicholas

Graduated with special major in environmental studies, combining engineering and biology. I did not, however, include her in the original analysis of women engineers. In Nov 1981, she involved in stream forecasting management and had received a Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering. In the July 1977 issue of the Swarthmore Alumni magazine, there was special article on the four women engineers to graduate in that year and they also included Nancy as the fifth. The article mentioned how she had developed her special major and that she hoped to carry out research in energy policy. She was also quoted "I was very conscious of being a woman in the engineering department, but not adversely." She felt that the program was demanding and that they all felt cut off from the rest of the college, but that it had drawn them together.


Ruth E. Deer (DeHolton)

Degree in Engineering. Her current occupation is listed as high school math teacher in Cypress-Fairbanks School District.


Valerie E. Prescott (Bradford)

Degree in Engineering. Her occupation is construction engineer/bridge director for the Delaware River Port Authority. In the Swarthmore Bulletin from March 1999, there is an article about her accomplishment. It mentions that she is the first engineer to hold the top management position at the bridge. And the first woman. And the first minority.


Margaret A. Collins

Degree in Engineering. Her current occupation is high school physics teacher at Hudson High School.


Sandra A. Gilson

Degree in Engineering. Her current occupation is hardcopy specialist/manager at Hewlett-Packard Company. In the past, she worked for IBM for 9 years. Also, in May 1979, she was product engineer for Storage Technology in CO.


Gail M. Grubelich (Jacobson)

Degree in Engineering. Her current occupation is director of New Business Development at Pactiv Corporation. Before that in May 1996, she was the marketing manager of Hefty Bags at Tenneco.


Laurie J. Hesselgrave (Mitsanas)

Degree in Engineering. Her current occupation is senior member of technical staff/engineer at AT&T.


Lynne A. Molter

Degree in Engineering. Her current occupation is engineering professor at Swarthmore College. Her advanced education includes a M.S. and Ph.D. in electrical engineering from M.I.T. She is also a member of the Optical Society of America's Education Council Graduate Student Committee.


Carol L. Shapley (Etter)

Degree in Engineering. Her current occupation is president of Helion Consulting, LLC. In the Feb 1981 edition of the Swarthmore Bulletin, she was involved in engineering in Washington, D.C. and then in 1991 she was with RCG/ Hagler-Bailly. In Dec 1998, she was the director of financial planning for Citizen Utilities.


Interesting Addition:
Martha Fratt (Class of 1977)

She received a M.S. in electrical engineering at UC-Berkeley and worked in the telecommunications system integration for AT&T Bell Labs. She did not major in engineering at Swarthmore. I happened to notice this information while scanning through the Swarthmore Alumni Bulletin. I thought that it was interesting that she decided to pursue engineering after college, even after not majoring in it.