From its founding in 1920, SAME welcomed all who were dedicated to the national defense. Still, the composition of the military, coupled with the historical challenges facing women who wished to pursue A/E/C professions, meant that at the time the vast majority of members were men.
Over the next 100 years, however, SAME would see its share of women members grow to about 18 percent in 2017–a higher percentage than the uniformed services and on par with representation in the A/E/C industry. However, as then-SAME National President Capt. Michael Blount, USN (Ret.), wrote, “we are still not properly represented by 51 percent of the population!” Ongoing initiatives to level the playing field and find those who might not “self-advocate” to elevate them into positions of leadership continue to this day, in efforts to continuously increase the Society’s diversity of thought.
For Women’s History Month, TME is looking back at women who made historical firsts in military engineering and the Society. These pioneers paved the way for other women to follow and make their own mark on the profession, sharing their experiences, knowledge, and lived experiences with the Society and building a stronger nation.
Ethel Bailey became the Society’s first female member in 1926. During World War I, she was an aircraft inspector with the Signal Corps, working on Liberty-12 airplane engines as well as bombers and transport planes. When World War II broke out, she worked on radar equipment at the Signal Corps Radar Laboratory and for the U.S. Navy, later moving to the Raytheon Manufacturing Co. When the war was over, she eventually went on to work in the Department of Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she developed spectroscopic equipment.
Hazel Graham was the Society’s first female Post Secretary when she was elected to the position at the Seattle Post in 1950. During World War II, she served as Captain, Women’s Army Corps, assigned part of the time in the Third Service Command Engineer Office. After the war, she worked as a Civil Service employee in the Seattle District Engineer Office.
Also in 1950, Marie Hodges was elected as the Society’s first female Post Treasurer for the Mobile Post. Professionally, she was an architect in the Design Branch of the Engineering Division of the Mobile District Office. However, she also held a B.S. degree in interior design from the Alabama Polytechnic Institute, and in addition to fulling her assignments in the Corps of Engineers, she enjoyed engaging in private interior decorating practice.
In 1977, Pearle Burke, F.SAME, an engineer and geologist with the Army Corps of Engineers’ New Orleans District, became the Society’s first female Fellow. She specialized in river engineering, and presented multiple papers on the effects of water temperature to the Corps of Engineers and the American Society of Civil Engineers. Within SAME, she served as the Secretary-Treasurer of the Louisiana Post for six years, along with numerous national committee positions. She was elected a National Director of the Society in 1977. Along with her achievements in SAME, she was named the first New Orleans District “Woman of the Year” in 1975 and the “Bicentennial Woman of the Year” in 1976.
Suzanne DiGeronimo, RA, F.SAME (Dist.) was the only woman on the Working Group that established the SAME Academy of Fellows in 1994. Her contributions to the Working Group helped shape the processes and standards created for the Academy. As President and Managing Partner of her own firm–DiGeronimo Architects–since 1970, she oversaw the delivery of architectural products to public and private sector clients. Within SAME, she served as President of the New Jersey Post from 1989-1990 and was elected to the SAME National Board of Direction as Vice President in 1994. That same year, she received the SAME Gold Medal. In 2015, she became the first woman, and the first architect, to be awarded the SAME Academy of Fellows Golden Eagle Award for outstanding contributions to the A/E/C profession.
Linda McKnight, F.SAME (Dist.) was the first woman to serve as Chair of the SAME Academy of Fellows from 2005 to 2007. A recognized leader in all phases of business development for DOD contractors, she held senior positions for a variety of A/E/C firms throughout her career. For her efforts mentoring young professionals and other future leaders in the industry, she was awarded the Gerald C. Brown Mentoring award in 2010 and later the Golden Eagle Award in 2019, making her only the second person in SAME history, and the first woman, to receive both prestigious awards. In 2018, she became one of the first women to be selected as a Distinguished Fellow for her continued dedication to the Society since becoming a Fellow.
Rear Adm. Katherine Gregory, P.E., CEC, USN, was the first woman to lead NAVFAC when she assumed command in 2010. Previously, she had been Commander, NAVFAC Pacific, and the Pacific Fleet Civil Engineer. Her other facilities assignments include tours in Japan, Italy, California, Alaska, and Hawaii. Within the Naval Construction Force, she served with Amphibious Construction Battalion One, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 1; was Commanding Office of NMCB 13; Commander of the 30th Naval Construction Regiment; and Chief of Staff for the First Naval Construction Division. She graduated in 1982 from the U.S. Naval Academy and holds degrees from the University of Southern California and The George Washington University.
Maj. Gen. Theresa Carter, P.E., USAF, was the first woman Air Force Civil Engineer general. In 2013, she became the Air Force Civil Engineer and Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, Installations, and Mission Support. A career civil engineer, she served in a variety of positions at the base, major command, and Air Staff levels, and commanded a civil engineer squadron, mission support group, and two air base wings. Her contingency experience included service in support of Operation Desert Shield, and command of a civil engineer unit in support of Operation Southern Watch. She has a Master of Science in Industrial Engineering from the University of Oklahoma as well as a Master of Science in National Resource Strategy from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, Fort McNair, Washington, D.C.
In 2015, Jane Penny, P.E., F.SAME (Dist.), became SAME’s first woman President. During her presidential tenure, the SAME Foundation was established, marking a major step in the Society’s support of fostering engineering leadership for the nation. She would later go on to sit on the Foundation’s Board of Directors as one of the six past SAME Presidents serving on the board. A Fellow since 1998, she was also one of the first women to be selected as a Distinguished Fellow. Her previous service to the Society included positions as the Treasurer of the Illini Post; as Secretary, Vice President, and President of the Atlanta Post; and as South Atlantic Regional Vice President.
TME Looks Back at 100 Years of Military Engineering
Founded in 1920, the Society of American Military Engineers is celebrating 100 years of service to the nation in dedication to national security. Its official Centennial Anniversary Book, SAME: The Second Century Begins – Preparing for the Future by Building on the Past is available to order now.
Filled with a combination of unique archival material from the past century of engineering history and an unprecedented look at tomorrow, this book is the perfect commemoration of SAME’s past, present, and future.