Should Your Daughter Be a Civil Engineer? – Author Revisits Article 50 Years Later

March 8, 2018
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In 1968, an ASCE Younger Member named Judy Hamilton sat down to write an article for Civil Engineering magazine with the provocative title of “Should Your Daughter Be A Civil Engineer?” An asterisk directs the reader to a footnote advising, “This article is addressed to men, since I am quite certain other women engineers are more capable than I of telling their daughters about engineering.”

Fifty years later, it is a remarkable document (read the entire article here), at once reflective of its time and very much ahead of its time.

The author occasionally works from societal assumptions that probably seem out of date to today’s reader: “Many of the ‘feminine’ arts are actually related to technical work. Except for the size of the batch, there isn’t too much difference between making cookies and making concrete. …”

But mostly Hamilton writes with wit and power: “Women are no longer content to keep house and keep quiet; they make laws, perform operations, and run businesses.”

What, one wonders, would Judy Hamilton think of “Should Your Daughter Be A Civil Engineer?” 50 years later?

We called her up to find out.

“What a surprise to find that my article can still be found,” Hamilton said.Daughters as engineers 3

“I don’t know what inspired me to write it. But I remember my boss thought I shouldn’t use any humor in it. Well, he also thought I was a dilettante because I had other interests besides just engineering [laughs]. But I don’t know, I just thought if you had a little bit of humor in it, people would be more interested in reading it and passing it on.”

If anyone ever posed the question to her father – should your daughter be a civil engineer? – Hamilton has spent her life answering it in the affirmative.

Hamilton, P.E., M.ASCE, is still a civil engineer as she approaches her 79th birthday, serving as a FEMA reservist. She traveled to Georgia last November for a month doing mitigation work after Hurricane Irma. She started her career working for the Bureau of Reclamation in the 1960s, before spending four decades based in Colorado working as a consultant, mainly in groundwater hydrology, engineering geology, and environmental studies.

She talked to ASCE News about her career and that CE magazine article. We read selections from the piece, asking her how the 2018 Judy felt about the 1968 Judy’s perspectives.

Hamilton in 1968: “If you happen to realize that women can be engineers, and that your daughter may have the capabilities to become one, unless you encourage her, she will probably never even think of entering the field.”

Hamilton in 2018: “I don’t think a lot of that is true anymore, that there’s a stigma against women in engineering. There’s certainly a lot more emphasis on getting women into engineering now, with the STEM programs. And I was just at a meeting the other day and someone was saying that 30 percent of the students at the Colorado School of Mines are women. Certainly, I don’t think there’s any disincentive to go into engineering and math anymore. There may be locally or in families, but I think there is much more encouragement of women going into engineering now.”

collaborateHamilton in 1968: “… there simply are not enough women engineers around to talk to all of the interested girls. And if your daughter does express an interest in engineering, she’s likely to face some discouragement from her associates.”

Hamilton in 2018: “I think that’s definitely changed. Very different now. When I got into engineering, I was very active in the Society of Women Engineers, and that was very helpful. I met some very successful women engineers, and that was a big encouragement.

“I remember when my sister was in high school. She’s four years younger than I, and she was telling me about one of her teachers reading notices about an engineering program for high school students. And she said, ‘Well you girls won’t be interested in this.’ That has certainly changed.”

Hamilton in 1968: “Today, combining a career and a family is much easier than it was in the past. … a woman engineer who wants to stay home for a few years while her children are young doesn’t have to give up her career. By spending a few hours a week taking courses in her field or attending professional and technical meetings, she can keep up to date enough to obtain a good job when she does return to work.”

Hamilton in 2018: “I think now, from what I’ve encountered, most women just keep working. They may take a month or so off, and they put their child in childcare and keep working. I think for economic reasons now, a lot of women have to keep working.”

call for photosHamilton in 1968: “Engineering should be an ideal profession for women. If your daughter has the interest and aptitude, give her all the encouragement you can.”

Hamilton in 2018: “I think fathers relate better to their daughters now than they did when I was young. Just from what I’ve seen with my nephews, they’re much more involved with their children than fathers were when I was young.

“That probably should help women. It used to be when I was young, you were supposed to maybe work for a couple years, have a child, and then stay at home. There’s a very different attitude now. Families now do not expect their daughters to get married and stay home.

“I’m a lot more optimistic now. I think women are a lot more accepted.”

Articles like hers helped push that trend toward acceptance. Not that she ever was trying to start a movement.

“I don’t think I really thought that much about it,” Hamilton said, chuckling. “I’ve always just kind of plowed along doing what I want.”

Thanks to Erin McCauley, P.E., M.ASCE, manager of capital delivery at California Water Service, for bringing Judy Hamilton’s article to the attention of ASCE News.

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3 Comments
  • I worked for the Bureau of Reclamation in Sacramento in 1968 and remember Judy Hamilton. Interesting to hear about her career.

  • I am very grateful to my guidance counselor in high school who handed me a brochure in 1980 describing the opportunities for women in engineering. My counselor told me “I am supposed to encourage girls who are good in math and science to consider engineering as a career” and I am happy that she did. She had no idea what engineers do everyday and did not even know anyone who was an engineer. I did my own research and asked my parents if they knew anyone. I interviewed my neighbor and did an expository writing assignment on the history of the engineering profession. I celebrated my 30th anniversary as a working Civil Engineer in 2017. I graduated from Colorado State University and was hired by Public Service Company of Colorado to be trained for natural gas engineering. I still work in natural gas and after a 16 year hiatus returned to Xcel Energy, the parent company of Public Service. I am a PE and hold the title of Principal Engineer working in gas transmission operations for Xcel. I thank those who wrote articles and brochures encouraging girls to become engineers, without them I would not be where I am today.

  • I would have to disagree with Ms. Hamilton’s response to her own statement about taking time off of engineering to take care of children. When my first son was born in 2004, I started working part time. I worked for the same company for about 3 years. (I had been with them for 6.5 before that, full-time.) Then, right before my second son was born in early 2008, I left work completely and took care of my kids full-time for about five years. I then re-entered the workforce part-time and worked for about 2.5 years before going back to work full-time. Civil engineering has been good to me. I was able to stay engaged in the engineering community, even when I was not working, which made my transition back to working easier and almost seamless.

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