Our newspaper carries an “On This Day in History” feature. Today it notes that on March 6, 1906, Nora Stanton Blatch (Barney) was elected to membership in the American Association of Civil Engineers. That sounds groundbreaking, and it was, but it is not the entire story.
Nora Stanton Blatch was the granddaughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and daughter of Harriot Stanton Blatch. She followed in their suffragist footsteps. While at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, Nora Stanton Blatch became a member of the Kappa Kappa Gamma chapter, among other activities. In 1905, she graduated from Cornell with a civil engineering degree, the only women in her class. She was also one of the first women to graduate with a civil engineering degree from any institution. Her Master’s thesis, An Experimental Study of the Flow of Sand and Water in Pipes under Pressure, based on research which took place at Cornell University’s Beebe Lake Hydraulics Laboratory, addressed and solved a key problem in hydrodynamics.
In 1906, she earned Junior Member status in the American Society of Civil Engineers. Two years later, she married Lee de Forrest, an early pioneer of radio and motion picture sound. The marriage didn’t last long. de Forrest did not seem to appreciate his wife’s professional aspirations. His wish was that she become a housewife. A daughter, Harriot was born in 1909, the year Stanton became employed as an engineer for the Radley Steel Construction Company. Stanton sued de Forrest for a divorce and it became final in 1911.
In 1912, she began working for the New York Public Service Commission as an assistant engineer. During this time, she was also heavily involved in the suffrage movement. She became President of the Women’s Political Union in 1915 and was Editor of its Women’s Political World publication.
In 1916, when the ASCE terminated her membership because she had reached the age limit for Junior Membership and had failed to make full Associate status in the organization. Her application for Associate Membership was declined by the organization’s Board of Directors. She sued ASCE, but was unsuccessful in court; the New York State Supreme Court upheld ASCE’s decision.
She married Morgan Barney in 1919; they lived in Greenwich, Connecticut, where she became a real estate developer. The Barneys had two children, Rhoda and John.
Nora Stanton Blatch Barney died in 1971. In 2015, nearly a century after she sought full ASCE Associate Membership, it was granted posthumously. On August 11, 2015, Nora Stanton Blatch Barney became a Fellow of the ASCE.
© Fran Becque, www.fraternityhistory.com, 2016. All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed this post, please sign up for updates. Also follow me on twitter @GLOHistory and Pinterest www.pinterest.com/glohistory/