Careers and Marriage

Nora Stanton (Blatch) Barney was born in England, but came to the United States when she was 19. Her grandmother was Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a pioneer in women’s rights, especially voting. Nora’s mother was also an activist, and Nora had both her mother and grandmother’s activist spirit.

Nora chose to study Civil Engineering at Cornell University. She was Cornell’s first woman engineering graduate and one of the first women engineering graduates in the nation. The year was 1902, when she applied for membership in the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), she was only accepted as a junior member. She sued ASCE to be admitted as a full member but lost. No woman was admitted to full status for more than a decade. In 2015 (103 years after first applying for ASCE), Nora was selected as a Fellow of ASCE.

Nora’s initial engineering experience was with the NYC Board of Water Supply and then the American Bridge Company. While working, she met Lee de Forest, a pioneer in the development of radio technology. She quit her job and began to work for de Forest. They married and their honeymoon to Europe was essentially a sales trip.

When de Forest insisted she quit working to become a traditional housewife, she refused. The marriage ended soon after de Forest’s ultimatum.

Nora subsequently held a number of engineering jobs, eventually becoming a real estate developer. She remarried Morgan Barney, a marine architect, who was more supportive of her career. Throughout her engineering career, she remained active in fighting for women’s rights. She died at the age of 87.

Just imagine how much talent has been lost over the years as a result of a person’s biology. Prejudices based upon gender, race, sexual orientation, or natural origin has restricted entry into many professions. Not everyone was as strong as Nora in the pursuit of a career best suited to her talents. Even today, there continues to be nuanced barriers to entry into what have been predominately white male professions.

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“To engineer a better society, we need people of different genders, races, and backgrounds solving our problems.” – Jamie Clark (Adventurer)

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