Brooklyn’s Emily Roebling picks up where her husband left off

Portrait of Emily  Warren Roebling

by Leona Atkinson
Wondrous Works Blog

“…an everlasting monument to the sacrificing devotion of a woman and of her capacity for that higher education from which she has been too long disbarred.”
–Abram Stevens Hewitt (“Father of the New York City Subway System”)

When Abram Stevens Hewitt spoke those words at the dedication of the Brooklyn Bridge, he was speaking of Emily Warren Roebling. Emily was born on September 23, 1843 in New York during a time that several people were demanding the total emancipation of women.

Joseph Lunn’s “Rights of Women” a three act comedy play for the New York stage presented in 1843 told well the feelings of the day:

“While Europe’s eye is fixed on mighty things, the fate of emperors and the fall of kings,
While guards of state must each produce his plan,
and even children lisp the rights of man,
amid the mighty fuss just let me mention,
The rights of women merit some attention.”

Emily, even at a young age, was always interested in pursuing education and her older brother, Gouverneur K. Warren, supported her ambition. It was while visiting her brother, who was a commander of the Fifth Army Corps during the Civil War, that Emily met Washington Roebling, fell in love and was married in 1865. Washington was the son of the Brooklyn Bridge designer John A. Roebling, who was a civil engineer. After Washington’s father died, he carried on the construction of the Bridge and when he himself became ill, Emily continued the construction and became known as “the first woman field engineer.” It was her contribution that led to the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge. In 1883 the bridge was completed and Emily was the first to cross over it. She rode in a carriage, carrying a rooster as a sign of victory. Emily died 20 years later on February 28, 1903 at the age of 60.

On the first day of Autumn, September 23, 2011, I wanted to write about Emily, by honoring her memory on this day and acknowledging her courage and commitment to finish well. I feel Emily was an extraordinary work of God. When faced with the illness of her husband, Emily dedicated herself to seeing him realize his dream. She was a champion and upon completing the task her husband was no longer able to do, she did something else extraordinary, for in a time when women were not supposed to be pursuing education she enrolled at New York University and obtained a law degree at age 56.

In the abstract for her book,”Silent Builder: Emily Warren Roebling and the Brooklyn Bridge“, Marilyn Weigold states, “Emily Warren Roebling’s career as a silent builder and organization (wo)man was terminated by death in 1903, but her achievements, not the least of which was the Brooklyn Bridge, have endured.

168 years after her birth, Emily Warren Roebling, is still remembered for her extraordinary life and should be an inspiration to us all. Happy Birthday Emily!

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