Women’s History Month-Three Early Trailblazing Women in Construction

Photo Credit: Animoto Slideshow, Zaha Hadid, Lillian Ann Baumbach-Jacobs, and Solveig Erikstad

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hi everyone!

I was listening to a video podcast where a male guest host was speaking to a female co-host and asked her to name some influential women in construction. I thought about it and realized that I do not have a list of any major women players in the construction game. In a discussion, I could not run off some names of some amazing female contributors to society. As I explained earlier in my career, I had initially chosen to avoid women in construction. I didn’t want their sins of terrible work ethic rub off on me. As I have gotten older, I became more open to reaching out to fellow hard working women. I have some great examples of women locally that kick ass in their profession. I belong to some women in the trades groups on Facebook. However, I have not branched out too much to seek women in other aspects of construction. I am going to showcase three women who have worked in different capacities of construction.

Zaha Hadid | Biography, Buildings, Architecture, Death, & Facts | Britannica
Photo & Source Credit: Zaha Hadid & Britannica

My first woman to showcase was the late Zaha Mohammed Hadid, DBE, RA. Dame Zaha was a British Iraqi architect. Ms. Hadid was born in Bagdad, Iraq, first earned a Mathematics degree in Beirut, Lebanon, then studied architecture in London, England by 1972. By 1979, Ms. Hadid opened up her own architecture firm, Zaha Hadid Architects. By 1983, Ms. Hadid gained international attention through her winning design entry for The Peak- a recreational Centre in Hong Kong. This design was known as a horizontal skyscraper. Ms. Hadid’s aggressive geometric designs aligned her architecture style with other architects known as “Deconstructivists”. Many of Ms. Hadid’s designs were used and built in locations throughout Germany, England, Italy, Hong Kong, Qatar, the U.S., and many places around the globe. Many of her designs were deemed too avant-garde and too costly during that time period. Ms. Hadid faced criticism for issues not normally pushed onto a male architect. She was approached and questioned about working conditions on a jobsite in Qatar. Her position caused a media stir, add an exaggeration of facts, a settlement, and the settlement was donated by Ms. Hadid to a labor rights group. Ms. Hadid died of a heart attack in 2016 in Miami, Florida. She left some 36 projects unfinished at the time of her death. I find Ms. Hadid’s many contributions to be amazing. Knowing that she did these accomplishments back in the 1970’s while being a woman in the Middle East makes these accomplishments even more rich in reward to witness.

Have you heard of Lillian Ann Baumbach?... - Affordable Plumbing Solutions  Inc. | Facebook
Photo Credit: Lillian Ann Baumbach-Jacobs & Facebook

My second woman plumbing contractor, the first woman to earn her master plumbers license in 1951 at the age of 21 years old, was the late Lillian Ann Baumbach-Jacobs, of Arlington, VA. Newspaper accounts during the time she earned her license referred to her as “pretty”. Ms. Baumbach-Jacobs became the pen pal for over 250 soldiers serving over in Korea. She became a pin up girl that served as a distraction for the infantry during the war. Ms. Baumbach-Jacobs was born in 1930 and married an auto mechanic, and raised two daughters. Ms. Baumbach-Jacobs appeared on a variety of different tv shows, a radio broadcast, and wrote a magazine article entitled, Helpful Plumbing Hints for Housewives. The family has a website with articles in her honor. Go check out the website at: http://www.baumbach.com/Default.htm to check out her legacy. Prior to being married, she was known as Miss Baumbach. Miss Baumbach’s first knack for plumbing came as a toddler when she fixed a stopped drain. Miss Baumbach-Jacobs came from an entire family who owned the W.J. Baumbach plumbing business. It appears that she was raised and taught how to work as a plumber like her family did. Just as I was as a kid, Miss Baumbach was her dad’s shadow and learned by watching her father. She didn’t grow up in a family culture where her growth was hampered. Ms. Baumbach-Jacobs passed away of leukemia at the age of 70 years old in 2000. Lillian indeed, while not fully realizing it at the time, made a mark for women’s history as a fellow trail blazer. Her family must be proud of her legacy.

First female welder - Ulstein
Photo & Source Credit; Ulstein & Solveig Erikstad

My third woman trail blazer is welder Solveig Erikstad who started her career in 1974 until her retirement in 2003. Ms. Erikstad was allured to an ad in a newspaper, geared for housewives, that offered free kindergarten for a free welding course. This opportunity for school and work was part time so it worked out with her schedule with school aged children. Ms. Erikstad was 34-years old at the time and a mother of two children. Ms. Erikstad started an on the job apprenticeship with eleven other ladies at approximately $2 USD per hour. While many of her male peers were welcoming and helpful, some male peers were skeptical of the women in the work crew. Some women left the crew and was replaced by a round of fresh female faces. After a year, Ms. Erikstad received her certificate in electrode welding. She later learned how to do gas welding and that was a totally different learning experience. Nowadays, gas welding is the industry standard. Ms. Erikstad learned how to weld ship hulls and she didn’t have a fear of heights so that was helpful. I cannot seem to find any further data on the current whereabouts of Ms. Erikstad. If she is still enjoying her retirement, she would be turning 81-years old this year. If anyone knows her, let me know. Here is another example of a woman who became a trail blazer just by responding to an ad and completing the program. She leaves her mark in women’s history as well.

In conclusion, I learned about three women, only new to me, in construction. I can add them to my mental rolodex if the discussion ever comes up on the topic. After I had started researching and writing, I realized that this is Women’s History Month. I just happen to be showcasing some ladies who were well ahead of my era in the construction industry. After reading the stories of the above ladies, my female construction contribution is not the first nor will be the last. I definitely do not consider myself a pioneer at all. I am merely chasing a career choice I made while taking an ASVAB military test when I was 16 years old. The beauty of the internet is that I can write down the legacy of myself and other ladies. Someday, our children and great grandchildren can reference these writings as our own little chunk of the legacy of women’s history. What more can you ask for?

Perhaps I will dig for more other women who were the firsts in different arenas of construction. I will have to do my research to find some interesting historic women. I know I want to check out the women during the Rosie The Riveter era. That will be my next showcase during Women’s History Month in March. Thanks for stopping by!

Cheers!

Leslie M. Jasper

-Author & Host of the #VerballyDisastrous podcast now alive on Spotify, YouTube, and Soundcloud

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