Women Breaking into the Profession

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The engineering field has had a long history of being a male dominated profession. However, while many other professions such as medicine, law and dentistry have also historically been male dominated, these professions have made significant strides into greater gender equity over the years. The engineering profession on the other hand stands out in its profoundly slow inclusion of women within its ranks.

Insert photo of Edna Russel from university.

The first woman to graduate from the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Manitoba was Edna Russell in 1946. However, the second woman, Wendy Woods, did not graduate from the Faculty of Engineering until 1960, 14 years later. Overall, female engineering education occurred relatively late in the history of engineering education in the province, with graduates being few and far between. Compounding this lack of female representation in the profession, is that neither of these first two trailblazers registered with the association as professional engineers. Unfortunately, Wendy Woods tragically passed away in a car accident shortly following graduation and was not able to register to the Association. It is unknown why Edna Russell, did not register.

Insert photo of Judith Weiszmann

The association did not receive its first application from a female engineer until 1958 when Judith Weiszmann applied. However, shortly after applying she was advised that her academic institution, the Technical University of Budapest, was not on the associations list of approved universities. As a result, her application for registration was denied and she was referred to the board of examiners. The university was formerly named the Royal Hungarian Josef Nador Technical University of Budapest, which was on the approved list, however after the communists seized power in Hungary in 1949, they renamed the university for political reasons. Previously her husband’s request for registration had been approved as he had graduated just prior to the name change. However, this was not a unique issue as other individuals from Hungary had also emigrated to Canada as well.

Insert photo of Class

Around the same time that Judith Weiszmann had applied another individual from the same university had transferred from Ontario. As a result of the Ontario association having had reviewed and approved the university, they accepted the individual and added the university to the list of accepted institutions. The complication for Judith Weiszmann was that the reason for her continued referral to the board of examiners is that the university offered two program streams; a day stream and a night stream. Her records indicated that she had taken the night stream and it was deemed to be of lesser caliber when compared to the day stream. After some years of correspondence with the association, she decided to comply with taking all of the examination requirements to gain registration.

Insert photo of Minke Kuiper

A few months following Judith Weiszmann’s initial application, a second woman applied to the association for registration. This time the application was accepted and on April 20th, 1959, Minke Kuiper became the first woman registered in the association’s history of professional self-regulation dating back to 1920. She was a graduate from the Technical University of Delft in Holland and immigrated to Canada in 1950 with her husband, and fellow engineer, Edward Kuiper. She had a degree in chemical engineering and worked part time with her husband. Edward Kuiper was a well-known and respected engineer as he worked on the hydraulic design of the Red River Floodway, then went on to have a long teaching career at the University of Manitoba.

Following Minke Kuiper, the second woman to be registered did not appear until 1963, four years later. The third did not appear until 1966, an additional three years after that. In both cases the professional careers of each of these two women were quite short and only lasted 22 and 25 months respectively. It is unknown as to why the careers of these women were so short.

Following Judith Weiszmann’s unsuccessful application in 1958 she spent the next decade concurrently working full-time for Weiszmann and Associates while writing six qualifying exams, a thesis, and raising a family. This was quite the achievement by any standard. When she finally did register as a professional engineer in April 1969, Judith Weiszmann became the fourth woman to be registered to practice engineering in the province. Judith eventually went on to become the first woman to have a long and fulsome career by practicing her profession for over 40 years.

After ten years of being registered as a professional engineer, Minke Kuiper withdrew from the association. The timing of her withdrawal is interesting as it occurred only two months following the successful registration of Judith Weiszmann. So, effectively at the time of Judith Weiszmann’s acceptance into the association Judith Weiszmann was the only active female engineer in the province as the other three previous women had withdrawn their registrations. Quickly following Weiszmann, Naomie Raz registered two months later, but her registration only lasted for 12 months.

   ===Sidebar: First Female Geoscientists ===

The first female geoscientists were registered in 1999 when all geoscientists were formally included within the Association. However, many of them had been working in their field long before then. So, more importantly the first female geoscientist to graduate with a geoscience degree and go on to register with the Association was Dominique Borneuf who graduated in 1963 from the University of Bordeaux in France and registered in 2007.

By the 1970s, while female engineers were still rare, the association was registering women more frequently and regularly, averaging one or two a year. In 1972 Irene Schumada became the first female graduate from the University of Manitoba to register as a professional engineer. However, again her tenure did not last particularly long as she withdrew from the association a mere five months later. Two years following that in 1974 Kathleen Kompauer became the second University of Manitoba female engineering graduate who registered with the Association. She maintained her designation and went on to a long and prosperous career spanning over four decades.

It is observed that of the first seven registered female engineers, five were born and educated abroad, and of the first 15, eight were born and educated abroad. This could suggest a greater social acceptance of women in engineering in Eastern Europe and other places at a much earlier stage than in Manitoba or Canada. In addition, many of the first women fell into either one of two buckets; a very short career spanning only a few years or even months, or a very long career spanning two, three, or four decades. As shown in the histogram of the career lengths of the first 23 women, 13 had careers of five years or less, eight had careers of twenty years or more, while only two had careers somewhere in between.

Insert Career Duration Chart

Society slowly came to the realization that the pursuit of a professional career and having a family were not necessarily mutually exclusive paths, but complimentary ones, where individuals could have a career and a family at the same time. By the beginning of the 1990s the Association was beginning to see a more meaningful number of women registering as engineers. In 1980 there were only 10 active women members, but by 1990 this number had grown to 72. However, as significant as these gains were, this still only represented a small fraction of the total membership, going from 0.4% in 1980 to 2.1% in 1990. The enrolment of women then continued steadily and consistently upward throughout the nineties, and by decades end had reached 165 women, representing 4.1% of the association’s membership. The next two decades that followed opened up the gates for women entering the profession as the membership of women skyrocketed to 396 by 2010 and to 712 by 2018.

Keeping in mind that these values represent the total annual membership at each point in time, but by this point many of the original pioneering women were retiring after a long and successful career and are no longer included within the values. By 2018 the percentage of women in the association had reached an all-time high of 10% of the association’s total membership. Consequently, one of the issues holding back this percentage is that over this same time period of rapid enrollment of women, so too has the Associations overall enrollment rapidly increased. The Associations membership went from 4000 members in 2000, to 5500 members in 2010, then to 7100 members by 2018.

   ===Sidebar: First female President Catherine (Cathy) Louise Stewart, 1996. Insert photo and profile of Cathy Stewart===

Insert chart of Historical Female Member Registrations

Insert timeline of Female membership milestones

    ===Sidebar: What’s in a Name!===

In going back into old records and databases a number of issues arose with errors on the gender of members. So, in order to address this, it was necessary to review the names of every member in and around the time of the first women entering the Association. However, this quickly became quite problematic as gender is not always readily apparent based on someone’s name. For example, historically the name Leslie was a popular male and female name. In addition, cultural and language differences also made this task particularly difficult.

   ===Sidebar: Nina Cameron Walley (Graham)===

Born in Liverpool, England, Nina Walley (Graham) graduated from the University of Liverpool circa 1910 and was the first female engineer to graduate from the institution and is believed to be the first in England. This is nearly forty years before the first female graduated engineering from the University of Manitoba and nearly fifty years before the first woman was registered as an engineer in Manitoba. Nina and her husband Cecil Walley, also an engineer, moved to Winnipeg sometime before 1912. Cecil was one of the original engineers registered in 1920, however Nina herself did not register.


  • Wedding Notice, Winnipeg. Newspaper: “A pretty wedding took place in Winnipeg, Canada, on October 12th, 1912.