Edith Clarke

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Edith Clarke
Edith Clarke.jpg
Born(1883-02-10)February 10, 1883
Howard County, Maryland
DiedOctober 29, 1959(1959-10-29) (aged 76)
Residence Massachusetts, United States
Nationality American
Alma mater Vassar College
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Known for Clarke transformation
Clarke calculator
Awards National Inventors Hall of Fame
Scientific career
Fields Electrical Engineering
Institutions General Electric
University of Texas at Austin

Edith Clarke (February 10, 1883 – October 29, 1959) was the first female electrical engineer and the first female professor of electrical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. [1] She specialized in electrical power system analysis [2] and wrote Circuit Analysis of A-C Power Systems. [3]

University of Texas at Austin public research university in Austin, Texas, United States

The University of Texas at Austin is a public research university in Austin, Texas. It was founded in 1883 and is the flagship institution of the University of Texas System. The University of Texas was inducted into the Association of American Universities in 1929, becoming only the third university in the American South to be elected. The institution has the nation's eighth-largest single-campus enrollment, with over 50,000 undergraduate and graduate students and over 24,000 faculty and staff.


Early life and education

Edith Clarke was born February 10, 1883, in Howard County, Maryland to John Ridgely Clarke and Susan Dorsey Owings, one of nine children. [4] After being orphaned at age 12, she was raised by her older sister. She used her inheritance to study mathematics and astronomy at Vassar College, where she graduated in 1908.

Mathematics field of study concerning quantity, patterns and change

Mathematics includes the study of such topics as quantity, structure, space, and change.

Astronomy natural science that deals with the study of celestial objects

Astronomy is a natural science that studies celestial objects and phenomena. It applies mathematics, physics, and chemistry in an effort to explain the origin of those objects and phenomena and their evolution. Objects of interest include planets, moons, stars, nebulae, galaxies, and comets; the phenomena also includes supernova explosions, gamma ray bursts, quasars, blazars, pulsars, and cosmic microwave background radiation. More generally, all phenomena that originate outside Earth's atmosphere are within the purview of astronomy. A related but distinct subject is physical cosmology, which is the study of the Universe as a whole.

Vassar College private, coeducational liberal arts college in Poughkeepsie, New York, in the United States

Vassar College is a private, coeducational, liberal arts college in the town of Poughkeepsie, New York. Founded in 1861 by Matthew Vassar, it was the second degree-granting institution of higher education for women in the United States, closely following Elmira College. It became coeducational in 1969, and now has a gender ratio at the national average. The school is one of the historic Seven Sisters, the first elite female colleges in the U.S., and has a historic relationship with Yale University, which suggested a merger with the college before coeducation at both institutions.

After college, Clarke taught mathematics and physics at a private school in San Francisco and at Marshall College. She then spent some time studying civil engineering at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, but left to become a "computer" at AT&T in 1912. She computed for George Campbell, who applied mathematical methods to the problems of long-distance electrical transmissions. While at AT&T, she studied electrical engineering at Columbia University by night.

San Francisco Consolidated city-county in California, United States

San Francisco, officially the City and County of San Francisco, is the cultural, commercial, and financial center of Northern California. San Francisco is the 13th-most populous city in the United States, and the fourth-most populous in California, with 884,363 residents as of 2017. It covers an area of about 46.89 square miles (121.4 km2), mostly at the north end of the San Francisco Peninsula in the San Francisco Bay Area, making it the second-most densely populated large US city, and the fifth-most densely populated U.S. county, behind only four of the five New York City boroughs. San Francisco is also part of the fifth-most populous primary statistical area in the United States, the San Jose–San Francisco–Oakland, CA Combined Statistical Area.

Marshall University university

Marshall University is a public research university in Huntington, West Virginia. It was founded in 1837 and is named after John Marshall, the fourth Chief Justice of the United States.

Civil engineering engineering discipline that deals with construction

Civil engineering is a professional engineering discipline that deals with the design, construction, and maintenance of the physical and naturally built environment, including public works such as roads, bridges, canals, dams, airports, sewerage systems, pipelines, structural components of buildings, and railways. Civil engineering is traditionally broken into a number of sub-disciplines. It is considered the second-oldest engineering discipline after military engineering, and it is defined to distinguish non-military engineering from military engineering. Civil engineering takes place in the public sector from municipal through to national governments, and in the private sector from individual homeowners through to international companies.

In 1918, Clarke enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the following year she became the first woman to earn an M.S. in electrical engineering from MIT. [5]

Massachusetts Institute of Technology research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is a private research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Founded in 1861 in response to the increasing industrialization of the United States, MIT adopted a European polytechnic university model and stressed laboratory instruction in applied science and engineering. The institute is a land-grant, sea-grant and space-grant university with campus extends more than a mile along side the Charles river. The institute is traditionally known for its research and education in the physical sciences, engineering and architecture, but more recently in biology, economics, linguistics, management, and social science and art as well. MIT is often ranked among the world's top five universities.

Professional career

Unable to find work as an engineer, she went to work for General Electric as a supervisor of computers in the Turbine Engineering Department. During this time, she invented the Clarke calculator, [5] [6] in 1921, a simple graphical device that solved equations involving electric current, voltage and impedance in power transmission lines. The device could solve line equations involving hyperbolic functions ten times faster than previous methods. She filed a patent for the calculator in 1921 and it was granted in 1925. [5] [7]

General Electric American multinational conglomerate corporation

General Electric Company (GE) is an American multinational conglomerate incorporated in New York and headquartered in Boston. As of 2018, the company operates through the following segments: aviation, healthcare, power, renewable energy, digital industry, additive manufacturing, venture capital and finance, lighting, and oil and gas.

Turbine rotary mechanical device that extracts energy from a fluid flow

A turbine is a rotary mechanical device that extracts energy from a fluid flow and converts it into useful work. The work produced by a turbine can be used for generating electrical power when combined with a generator. A turbine is a turbomachine with at least one moving part called a rotor assembly, which is a shaft or drum with blades attached. Moving fluid acts on the blades so that they move and impart rotational energy to the rotor. Early turbine examples are windmills and waterwheels.

Electric current flow of electric charge

An electric current is a flow of electric charge. In electric circuits this charge is often carried by electrons moving through a wire. It can also be carried by ions in an electrolyte, or by both ions and electrons such as in an ionized gas (plasma).

In 1921, still unable to obtain a position as an engineer, she left GE to teach physics at the Constantinople Women's College in Turkey. The next year, she was re-hired by GE as an electrical engineer in the Central Station Engineering Department. Clarke retired from General Electric in 1945.

Her background in mathematics helped her achieve fame in her field. On February 8, 1926, as the first woman to deliver a paper at the American Institute of Electrical Engineers' annual meeting, she showed the use of hyperbolic functions for calculating the maximum power that a line could carry without instability. [8] Two of her later papers won awards from the AIEE: the Best Regional Paper Prize in 1932 and the Best National Paper Prize in 1941. [1]

In 1943, Edith Clarke wrote an influential textbook in the field of power engineering, Circuit Analysis of A-C Power Systems, based on her notes for lectures to GE engineers.

In 1947, she joined the faculty of the Electrical Engineering Department at the University of Texas at Austin, making her the first female professor of Electrical Engineering in the country. She taught for ten years and retired in 1957. [1]

In an interview with the Daily Texan on March 14, 1948, Clarke observed: "There is no demand for women engineers, as such, as there are for women doctors; but there's always a demand for anyone who can do a good piece of work." [9]


Edith Clarke was the first female engineer to achieve professional standing in Tau Beta Pi. [1] In 1948, Clarke was the first female Fellow of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. [1] In 1954, she received the Society of Women Engineers Achievement Award. [10]

In 2015, Clarke was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. [11]

Further reading

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Durbin, John. "In Memoriam: Edith Clarke". Index of Memorial Resolutions and Biographical Sketches. University of Texas . Retrieved October 16, 2012.
  2. Brittain, James. "Scanning the Past: Edith Clarke and Power System Stability". Proceedings of the IEEE. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Retrieved October 16, 2012.
  3. Clarke, Edith (1943). Circuit analysis of A-C power systems. J. Wiley & sons, inc.
  4. Riddle, Larry. "Edith Clarke". Biographies of Women Mathematicians. Agnes Scott College . Retrieved October 16, 2012.
  5. 1 2 3 Carey, Charles Jr. "Edith Clarke". American National Biography Online. Retrieved October 16, 2012.
  6. Calculator, US patent 1552113 A, 1924
  7. USpatent 1552113,Edith Clarke,"Calculator",issued 1925-09-01, assigned to Clarke, Edith
  8. "WOMAN ADDRESSES ELECTRICAL INSTITUTE; Miss Edith Clarke the Only One of Her Sex to Read a Paper at Engineers' Meeting". The New York Times. 9 February 1926. Retrieved 8 June 2013.
  9. "Pioneering Women in Computing Technology". The Ada Project. Retrieved 11 April 2014.
  10. Hobbs, Amy. "Edith Clarke". Biographical Series. Archives of Maryland. Retrieved October 16, 2012.
  11. "Edith Clarke" (PDF). National Inventors Hall of Fame. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 4, 2015. Retrieved 4 February 2015.