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Kate Gleason

Kate Gleason
Kate Gleason.jpg
Catherine Anselm Gleason

November 25, 1865
DiedJanuary 9, 1933(1933-01-09) (aged 67)
Resting placeRiverside Cemetery, Rochester, New York
43°13′05″N 77°37′40″W / 43.218013°N 77.627647°W / 43.218013; -77.627647
Alma materCornell University
OccupationEngineer, businesswoman

Catherine Anselm Gleason (November 25, 1865 – January 9, 1933) was an American engineer and businesswoman known both for being an accomplished woman in the predominantly male field of engineering and for her philanthropy.

Early life and Gleason Works

Catherine Anselm Gleason was born the first of four children of William and Ellen McDermott Gleason of Rochester, New York, émigrés from Ireland. Her father was the owner of a machine tool company, later named Gleason Works, which later became one of the most important makers of gear-cutting machine tools in the world. When she was 11, her stepbrother Tom died of typhoid fever, causing hardship at her father's company because Tom had been an important helper. At the age of 12 she began working for her father to fill the void left by Tom's death. In 1884, she was the first woman to be admitted to study engineering at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY[disputed ], although she was unable to complete her studies at Cornell due to her required presence in the factory. She continued her studies upon returning to Rochester at the Mechanics Institute, later renamed Rochester Institute of Technology.[1] She was actively involved as the treasurer as well as saleswoman for Gleason Works. In 1893, she toured Europe to expand the company's business, one of the first times an American manufacturer tried to globalize their business. Today, international sales make up almost 3/4 of the company's business.[2]

Fred H. Colvin described Kate Gleason in his memoirs as "a kind of Madame Curie of machine tools […] Kate spent her youth learning her father's business from the ground up, both in the shop and in the field, so that when she branched out for herself about 1895 as a saleswoman for her father's gear-cutting machines, she knew as much as any man in the business."[3]

Ellen Gleason was a friend of fellow Rochesterian Susan B. Anthony, and Kate Gleason later cited Anthony as a source of advice. Gleason undertook several efforts supporting Women's Suffrage after Anthony's death.

Life after leaving the Gleason Works

Due to conflicts with her family she left Gleason Works in 1913 and found work at the Ingle Machining Company. She Joined Ingle Machine Company on 1 January 1914. She was appointed the receiver of bankruptcy for the company, the first woman to do so. Under her guidance she restored the company and repaid their outstanding debts. The company was returned to the stockholders before the end of 1915. After her endeavors with Ingle Machine Company she turned her attention to East Rochester where she helped to finance and build 8 factories for various companies.[4] In 1914, she was the first woman elected to full membership in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and represented the society at the World Power Conference in Germany. In 1918, she was appointed the president of First National Bank of East Rochester[5] while the previous President was enlisted in World War I. During this period she took charge of a problem loan and used it to finish the housing complexes left from the previous loan holder. She used this to further her humanitarian efforts in Rochester, starting eight companies, including a construction company that built houses for the middle class. After this success she took it upon herself to experiment with concrete to build cheap fireproof houses at an affordable cost using a pouring method she developed. After this success she described her methods in an article she wrote for a trade magazine, Concrete, in 1921 titled "How Women Builds Houses to Sell at a Profit for $4000". Later, she left Rochester for business opportunities in South Carolina and California.[2] In the 1920s she rebuilt a castle in Septmonts France for herself. As well as helping the surrounding towns to recover from the damage left from the world war. During this time period she also toured California to study adobe buildings. In 1924, she was asked by Berkeley, California to help them rebuild after a fire. In the late 1920s she began to build more poured concrete buildings[6] in Sausalito, California, but she ran into some more issues and the project was not as successful as her buildings in Rochester. Then at her winter home in Beaufort, South Carolina she had plans to make a community of garden apartments for artists and writers but only 10 of these homes were completed at the time of her death.

Personal life

Gleason was a supporter of women's suffrage. According to an account of 1912 National America Woman Suffrage Association Convention mentions Gleason as having promised $1,200 to the suffrage movement, one of its largest pledges. Many of Kate Gleason's personal writings testify to her and her father's contributions to women's suffrage.[7] Gleason viewed marriage as a hindrance to her professional life and she never married nor had children.[2]

Death and legacy

Gravestone in Riverside Cemetery

She died January 9, 1933 of pneumonia and is interred in Riverside Cemetery in Rochester. She left much of her $1.4 million estate to institutions in the Rochester area, including libraries, parks, and the Rochester Institute of Technology. The Kate Gleason College of Engineering at RIT is named in her honor, and her bust stands proudly in the hallway. Kate Gleason Hall is an RIT residence hall.[8] Gleason Works is still in operation today and retains a strong connection with RIT. In 2010, RIT press published a collection of Gleason's letters.[9]


In 1884 at the age of 19 Kate Gleason enrolled into the Cornell Mechanical Arts program,[10] She was the first female student to attend for engineering. However, she ended up leaving before the end of her first academic year to help her father. Her father had hired a man to replace her in the business but the firm started struggling financially and her father could no longer afford to pay Kate's replacement and he called her home to help again at Gleason Works. She never was able to complete the requirements for a degree but through training and self-learning she earned the title of engineer and is recognized for her accomplishments. She did get some further education at Sibley College of Engraving and The Mechanics Institute which is now Rochester Institute of Technology[11]

Further reading

  • Colvin, Fred H. (1947), Sixty Years with Men and Machines, New York and London: McGraw-Hill, LCCN 47003762. Available as a reprint from Lindsay Publications (ISBN 978-0-917914-86-7). Foreword by Ralph Flanders.
  • Layne, Margaret E. (2009). Women in engineering. Pioneers and trailblazers. Reston, Va.: ASCE Press. ISBN 978-0784472354. OCLC 782925070.
  • Gleason, Janis F (2010). The life and letters of Kate Gleason. Rochester, NY: RIT Press. OCLC 653121364.
  • "Kate Gleason papers". Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation, River Campus Libraries, University of Rochester.


  1. ^ Rochester Institute of Technology. "The Source 2005-2006". Archived from the original on September 1, 2006. Retrieved 2008-01-05.
  2. ^ a b c Bailey, Margaret B. (January 2008). "Kate Gleason: The Ideal Business Woman". The Rochester Engineer. 86 (6): 8–9.
  3. ^ Colvin 1947, p. 73.
  4. ^ "Kate Gleason". Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica.
  5. ^ "Woman Bank Head in East Rochester". The Post Express: 3. August 19, 1918.
  6. ^ Weingart, Richard (2005). "Engineering Legends: Great American Civil Engineers". Engineering Legends: Great American Civil Engineers: 108.
  7. ^ Berman, Milton. "Gleason, Kate (1865-1933), businesswoman". American National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/anb/9780198606697.001.0001 (inactive 2019-08-20). Retrieved November 28, 2017.
  8. ^ "Kate Gleason Hall". RITpedia. Retrieved 17 December 2015.
  9. ^ Janis F. Gleason, The Life and Letters of Kate Gleason (Rochester: RIT Press, 2010).
  10. ^ Karwatka, Dennis (October 10, 2010). "Kate Gleason--First Female Engineering Student". Tech Directions. 70: 12.
  11. ^ Layne, Margaret (2009). Women in Engineering:Tech Directions. American Society of Civil Engineers.

External links

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