Emily Roebling was tested when she took over for her husband Washington, the chief engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Washington’s father, the former chief engineer and designer of the bridge, had died from tetanus after a barge crushed his foot. Emily’s husband then became paralyzed by a form of decompression sickness caused by changing air pressure, one of the perils of early bridge sites.
Emily became the surrogate chief engineer. She consulted with her husband and went back and forth to the construction site. Her work included negotiating with material suppliers who had to create new shapes of steel and iron. The men came to New York to see Washington but found they had to meet with Emily.
Emily hadn’t formally studied engineering, but according to an 1883 New York Times article, “her knowledge of engineering helped them out with their patterns and cleared away difficulties that had for weeks been puzzling their brains.”
No doubt she had to deal with condescending men. The 1883 article mentions the name of one man who had “tested” her engineering skill, as if that was something to be proud of.
She prevailed. When the Brooklyn Bridge, called the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” finally opened, Emily was the first to cross it.
I brushed off the man at the gym. We’ll always be tested. We’ll handle it.