Wonder Women of STEM: Beatrice Alice Hicks, a woman ahead of her time


February 5, 2015
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Editor’s Note: This post is the third in a series featuring influential women from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields in the lead up to HMNS’ annual GEMS (Girls Exploring Math and Science) event, February 21, 2015. Click here to get involved! 

Born in 1919 in Orange, New Jersey, Beatrice Alice Hicks was a woman ahead of her time. In the course of her life, she earned multiple degrees, pioneered the woman’s role in the field of engineering, and co-founded a women’s engineering society.

As a child, she was inspired by the construction of the empire state building to pursue a career in engineering. She attained her first degree in chemical engineering from Newark College of Engineering. Shortly afterwards, she became the first woman engineer hired at Western Electric in 1942 where she designed telephone equipment that would later be used for the first long distance phone system. Upon leaving Western Electric, she continued her education at Stevens Institute of Technology and received her master’s degree in physics.

Hicks continued her innovative approach to engineering when she joined her late father’s company as chief engineer. In 1962, Hicks patented a density switch. It monitored the density of a sealed environment and signaled when the density changed. Her invention was integral in the Apollo space missions to the moon! It informed the astronauts if there was a leak in the ship. She created a number of other environmental sensors throughout the duration of her career that were used in additional space missions as well as aircraft development. 

All of Beatrice Hick’s personal accomplishments were extremely impressive, but she wanted to do more. At the time, the United States was in need of more engineers, and Hicks had the perfect solution – women engineers! She felt that women were not being encouraged to study engineering.

In 1951, she and a few female engineers co-founded the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). Their goal was “to inform the public of the availability of qualified women for engineering positions; to foster a favorable attitude in industry for women engineers; and to contribute to their professional advancement.” When SWE started, it had 65 members and it has grown to include over 16,000 women! 

Hicks was elected president of SWE in 1951 and she travelled the country giving speeches and interviews about the role of women in engineering. Encouraging women to pursue a higher education, and serving as a role model for young engineers for generations to come. We hope you will stop by the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) booth this year at GEMS and be inspired by these female engineers! Come see Beatrice Hicks’ legacy and get excited about engineering.

HMNS is highlighting females that made contributions to STEM fields leading up to our annual GEMS (Girls Exploring Math and Science) event, February 21, 2015!

Girls Exploring Math and Science (GEMS) is an event that showcases some of the great things girls do with science, technology, engineering and math! Students can present a project on a STEM related subject for the chance to earn prize money for their school.

Kelsey
Authored By Kelsey Friedemann

Kelsey started working at the Museum through Xplorations summer camp, and this fall she started working as a programs facilitator. She is a presenter for several outreach programs, assists with overnight programs, and assists with education collections during summer camp. Her favorite dinosaur is a Triceratops found at HMNS Sugar Land. The Triceratops is also named “Kelsey.”

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