Celebrating More Women, In Different Trades, Smashing Barriers In Construction

hello everyone!

I have been trying to dig for early trailblazing women in construction within a wide variety of trades. I recently discussed with another trade sister as to what era produced the earliest women in the trades? We both were initially thinking that women from the 1970’s were the pioneers. While some women started their careers in the 1970’s, I was pleasantly surprised to see key women, such as Edith Clarke, that were straight smashing glass ceilings at GE & AT&T as early as the 1920’s!! For the purpose of this blog post, I am trying to dig into different trades to sift for legacies of early women in construction.

Photo Credit: Bruce Meserve from 1962 ICS Magazine

The first licensed master electrician, from Massachusetts, grew up on West Union Street back in the 1950’s. The first Massachusetts female master electrician story began when Deanna Dunlevy was just 16-years old. Ms. Dunlevy was hired by Clyde Meserve to initially just help out around the shop. Deanna soon found out that she had a talent for all things electrical. She had even worked to build a transformer for the high school science fair. While Ms. Dunlevy was taking courses to become a teacher, she was still working part-time as an electrical apprentice for Clyde Meserve Electrical Contractor. Once a bystander made a comment to Ms. Dunlevy that electrical work wasn’t “dignified” work for a lady, she decided to figure out how to become a licensed master electrician. This new sense of direction prompted Ms. Dunlevy to put her college work on hold and pursue her electrical training to become a journeywoman electrician. Ms. Dunlevy completed the required 6,000 hours of her apprenticeship to become a journeywoman electrician. She didn’t stop there- she took classes in Electricity at the Franklin Institute in Boston. Her goal was to finish the course work and sat for three examinations- two written and one was oral. By 1962, Clyde Meserve hired 21-year old Deanna Dunlevy as his first woman licensed master electrician.

Photo Credit: NY Times- 1977

I looked up the very first female licensed master plumber in New York City and I discovered 26-year old Josephine Striano from back in 1977. Ms. Striano used to accompany her father on his plumbing business calls as a little girl. When Ms. Striano earned her master plumbing license, she joined the ranks of her father and three brothers within the family business. Ms. Striano received her license after fulfilling rigorous physical qualifications, 7-years of work experience with a master plumber, acing a 4-hr written exam, and testing through a 4-hr practical test. The fields of study include: blueprints, drainage system completion, and plumbing fixture installation. “I think we were more excited about it than she was,” said Jeremiah T. Walsh, Commissioner of Buildings, who delivered the license in a brief private ceremony. “We have always felt we didn’t discriminate against women, and now that we had the first woman licensed master plumber in New York City and also in the state, we were excited. Mrs. Striano didn’t seem to feel it was any big deal.” This is what happens when you belong to an entire family that is of the same trade. There were no barriers in her family, there was a set of expectations that she met just like anyone else in the family.

I admit that I have spent quite a bit of time searching for an early female carpenter. This search has yielded very limited information. I tried to not just limit my search to just the United States. According to the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, the first female carpenter, her name was Margaret Ellings, was initiated into the union back in 1935. However, I do not know for sure in what capacity that Ms. Ellings served as a union member. I stumbled upon Dawn Gladwin, who is serving as Ikea’s first female carpenter from the UK and Ireland. Ms. Gladwin reveals that, “my job involves building podiums and walls in the store – anything to do with carpentry, really. It’s great, I love it. I really like making stuff and really love wood”. Ms. Gladwin also serves as a property guardian where she maintains spaces for reduced rent. Ms. Gladwin sounds crafty where she takes things that would be heading for the trash and re-purposes them to make them a viable product. I plan to ask one of the trade women chat forums that I belong to about some further data on some early women who work in carpentry since data is limited in that trade.

Photo & Source Credit: SheBegan.com website

However, I did find an article on the Altit Fort renovation project on an 800-year old fort in the Hunza Valley located in Pakistan. Back in 2001, the Government of Norway funded the renovation project on the fort and conferred the project to the non-profit organization known as, ‘Aga Khan Cultural Service, Pakistan’. The restoration project was carried out by a group of women from a well-known organization known as Ciqum. The Ciqum group was formed in 2003. More than 90 women, aged between 19-40-years old, work in a nearby workshop. Amongst these women is the first female carpenter from Hunza Valley whose name is Amina Bibi. She became a carpenter with the Ciqum organization upon the death of her father. The objective of the Ciqum organization is to provide a means for poor people to achieve a solid means of income. For Ms. Bibi, a job that started as a necessity to pay for living expenses became her passion. Upon completion of the the fort in 2009, it serves as a tourist attraction. Altit Fort is equipped with a guest house and a restaurant. In recognition of the work performed on the fort, the ‘Aga Khan Cultural Service, Pakistan’ received the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Award in the year 2011.

I shall see if there are any other avenues I can research on women in construction in honor of Women’s History Month. As always, thank you for stopping by to check out my content. I wish you a great week!

Cheers!

Leslie M. Jasper

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

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