Emily Warren was born September 23, 1843. She had 11 siblings, but was especially close to her older brother, Gouverneur Warren. He enrolled her in school at Georgetown Visitation Convent in Washington D.C. While visiting her favorite brother in New York, she met Washington Roebling, son of the civil engineer Johann Roebling. They married in 1865.
Her father in law, Johann, was commissioned to build a bridge connecting the boroughs of Brooklyn and Manhattan, spanning the East River. Before he could complete the project, however, Johann contracted tetanus and died. His son, Washington, took over. The design of the bridge involved caissons, large, hollow wooden boxes which were sunk into the bottom of the river, filled with compressed air, and then workers were lowered in them. Washington Roebling himself was lowered and came up with what was then called “Caisson Disease,” later the “Bends.” He was unable to work on site, so Emily stepped up and was his liaison.
In the meantime, she learned a lot about engineering on the job educating herself in mathematics, strength of materials, stress analysis, cable construction, and calculation of catenary curves. She had already been assisting her husband and father in law with technical research, so she had a head start. When the Bridge was finally completed after 13 years, Emily was the first to cross it, carrying a rooster as a symbol of victory. Later, Emily completed a degree in Law from New York University.
Further Reading at USC
Scelfo, J., & Heald, H. (2016). "The Builders". In The Women Who Made New York. Seal Press. pp. 33-35.
Weingardt, R. (2005). "Builders of Bridgers." In Engineering Legends: Great American Civil Engineers - 32 Profiles of Inspiration and Achievement. American Society of Civil Engineers. ASCE Press. pp. 55-60.
Lee, M., & Eriksson, P. (2018). Bygone Badass Broads : 52 Forgotten Women Who Changed the World. Abrams Image.
Stuart, John A. “GENDER RECONFIGURED: Emily Roebling and the Construction of the Brooklyn Bridge.” Architectural Theory Review, vol. 3, no. 1, Taylor & Francis Group, Apr. 1998, pp. 23–34, doi:10.1080/13264829809478330.
Tietjen, Jill S. Engineering Women: Re-Visioning Women’s Scientific Achievements and Impacts. 1st ed. 2017., Springer International Publishing, 2017, doi:10.1007/978-3-319-40800-2.
Weingardt, Richard G. “Clifford Milburn Holland and Emily (Warren) Roebling.” Leadership and Management in Engineering, vol. 4, no. 3, American Society of Civil Engineers, July 2004, pp. 116–19, doi:10.1061/(ASCE)1532-6748(2004)4:3(116).
“Brooklyn Bridge.” ASCE Metropolitan Section.
“Emily Warren Roebling: The Accidental Engineer.” The Finding Ada Network.
Vallario, Brian. “History Lesson : Emily Roebling.” Lowercase, January 8, 2018.
Women at the Center. “Emily Warren Roebling: Building the Brooklyn Bridge and Beyond.” Women at the Center, New York Historical Society, 2 Oct. 2018.