Stunning images of students attending the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (now Drexel University). The University was founded in 1850 and is one of the first institutions in the world to train women in medicine and offer them an M.D degree. Women came from all over the world to train there.
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With thanks to Drexel University for maintaining the archives
Meet Mary Sherman Morgan, rocket scientist, munitions and chemical engineer and one of the most instrumental players in the launch of America’s first satellite, Explorer I (shown above). According to her colleagues she “single-handedly saved America’s space programme”.
Mary started out life as a poor farm girl in North Dakota, her parents chose not to educate her by choice so that she could work on the farm. Eventually, she managed to graduate high school and then ran away from home to go to college and study chemical engineering.
During her studies, WWII broke out and there was a shortage of chemists in the country. Mary was offered a “Top Secret” job at a factory and had to accept without being told what the factory made or what her job would be. It turned out it was a munitions factory – Mary was put in charge of the manufacture of 3 different types of explosive. In her tenure the factory produced over 1 billion pounds of ordnance for WWII.
With the war behind her and after graduating her degree she started working for Rocketdyne under Dr Silverman. In the 1950’s the US was in a race to launch its first satellite into space. American rockets were just not successful, they either couldn’t accelerate to the necessary speed or would blow up on the launch pad. Out of dozens of other engineers Dr Silverman put Mary in charge of solving this problem. She invented Hydyne, a brand new and powerful liquid fuel. In 1958 Explorer I was successfully launched into space using Jupiter-C rockets powered by Hydyne fuel.
Shortly after this success, Mary left the world of work to become a stay at home mum. Much of her work was top secret and she was a very private person - she actively avoided the press. Barely anyone knew about what she did for the space programme. It was only at her funeral did her colleagues begin to share her story. “Mary single-handedly saved America’s space programme” he said “and nobody knows but a handful of old men”
Meet Elsie MacGill, a legend in aircraft design and production and the first female aircraft designer in the world. In 1938 she became Chief Aeronautical Engineer at Canadian Car and Foundry where she led the production and redesign of several planes including the Hawker Hurricane – the plane responsible for the most British victories in WWII. Most of the employees in the factory were women and by the wars end they had produced 1,400 aircraft, a massive feat. Elsie had forged new techniques for aeroplane production and mass production and won the Gzowski Medal for this work.
Elsie insisted on being the first one to test each and every one of her designs, a dangerous practice that gained her much respect amongst the pilots. She had a disability that virtually paralysed her from the waist down so she couldn’t ever pilot a plane herself. She would be carried into the planes by her colleagues and test the flights as a passenger recording changes and observations. By the wars end Elsie was a national hero and became known as the Hurricane Queen.
Elsie went on to become Chair of a UN aviation committee and led the drafting of the first International Airworthiness Regulations. She is the first woman to chair a UN committee. The daughter and granddaughter of feminist activist Elsie was heavily involved in the suffrage movement. Her accomplishments for women’s rights are almost as impressive as her accomplishments in the air. She campaigned for equal pay, the decriminalisation of abortion, justice for native women, and so much more. She is a legend of women’s rights and aviation.
Part 2 Tomorrow: Sex, Bling and Gliders the story of Barbara Cartland