Spanning Life

Spanning Life

Easter 17


“Some people’s beauty lies not in the features, but in the varied expression that the countenance will assume under the various emotions. She is…a most entertaining talker, which is a mighty good thing you know, I myself being so stupid.”  This is how Washington Roebling described Emily Warren to his sister.


Eighteen years later, at the dedication of the Brooklyn Bridge, she was referenced during the opening ceremony: “[This bridge is] 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.”


The Brooklyn Bridge connected the borough of Brooklyn to the borough of Manhattan and was the brainchild of Emily’s father-in-law.  As construction was to begin, however, he died of tetanus and Emily’s husband Washington took over the construction project.  He also succumbed to illness, though and it was Emily warren Roebling who carried out the duties of chief engineer.


Emily became knowledgeable and proficient regarding things such as materials strength, stress analyses, and cable construction.  The Brooklyn Bridge is a cable-stayed suspension bridge, one of the oldest of this type in the United States.  Faithfully every day, Emily went to the construction site and carried instructions, questions, and answers both to her husband and to the men working to build the bridge.


Never planning to become an engineer, Emily Warren Roebling became the impetus behind one of the largest construction project in the late 1800’s.  Today the Brooklyn Bridge carries over four thousand pedestrians and one hundred fifty thousand vehicles daily.  On its opening day in 1883, four thousand horse-drawn carriages went across and one hundred thousand visitors walked across the span.


An unexpected result of the erecting of this bridge was the discovery of caisson disease, now known as decompression disease.  Workers would descend to the river bed in large wooden boxes that had pressurized air pumped in as they used shovels to clear away mud and debris so granite could be laid for the foundation of the bridge.


Overseeing the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge would have been enough achievement for anyone, male or female, but Emily Roebling did not rest on her laurels.  After she made the first ride over the bridge carrying a rooster, she and her husband and son mover to Trento, New Jersey and built their home.  Emily earned her law degree from New York University’s Women’s Law class, having enrolled at the age of fifty-six years.


In her book “ Silent Builder: Emily Warren Roebling and the Brooklyn Bridge”, Marilyn Weigold wrote: “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.”




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