An item in The N&O’s “Under the Dome” column in 1960 noted something unusual at the N.C. Department of Transportation.
Nestled up among the busy sliderules of the road-building engineers in the State Highway Department is the first licensed lady engineer in North Carolina.
She is attractive, 31-year-old Mrs. Emily Blount, a State College graduate, a veteran of five years in State roadwork and daughter of a former road engineer.
Mrs. Blount recently passed the tough exams given by the State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
She is an associate traffic engineer in the department’s maze of road workers and draws a yearly salary of $6,176. The N&O Nov. 23, 1960
The “lady engineer” went on to have a 40-year career at DOT, most of it in traffic engineering. In 2006, Blount – the first woman to earn a degree from N.C. State in transportation civil engineering and the first North Carolina woman registered as a professional engineer – was inducted into the N.C. Transportation Hall of Fame. In 1960, UPI reporter Alan D. Resch introduced readers to Emily Brown Blount.
Although Emily Blount was the first woman to graduate in civil engineering at North Carolina State College, she does not feel she “sticks out like a sore thumb” in her profession.
“Why should I?” she asks. “I never had any ambition to be anything but an engineer… as a child, I didn’t even want to be a nurse.”
Mrs. Blount explains that her father, C. E. Brown of Wilmington, is an engineer who recently retired after 37 years of work with the State Highway Department.
“He used to take me to see his projects,” she says. “And I enjoyed being with him and seeing his work which, at that time, was in connection with the construction of bridges across the Cape Fear River.”
When college time rolled around, Mrs. Blount said her father explained that she should not study civil engineering unless she was sure that was what she wanted.
“He was a little surprised, I think, when I decided to follow in his profession,” she continues.
And since her graduation from State College in 1953 and her finishing a year’s graduate program, Mrs. Blount has worked at the post of associate traffic engineer in the State Highway Department.
She is still the only woman to date who received a professional degree in civil engineering at State College.
Although she claims State College for her alma mater, she took her first year of basic engineering at Duke University.
“I did not feel out of place in the classrooms in which I was the only girl,” she says, “because I was interested in becoming an engineer.
“But I admit – and probably many professors would too – that I revised more lecture notes in the Civil Engineering Department than at any time in the past.
“The professors just weren’t used to lecturing to girls, although there had been one or two girls in some of the classes before I got there.”
Mrs. Blount describes herself as one who would be willing “to ease quietly into the back of a classroom and take a seat. But the students were usually placed in alphabetical order, and I ended up usually on the front rows of most classes.”
In 1957 she married Sam Blount Jr., an engineer. However, she jokingly adds: “We have nothing in common – he’s a mechanical engineer. And we can’t even hold an engineering conversation.”
With the State Highway Department, the small brunette has a big job. She re-designs intersections.
Mrs. Blount explains that part of her work consists of research into accident reports. “I take the accident reports, study them, and try to figure out why the accidents happened,” she says.
“Then I re-design the already existing facility, trying to remove the hazards which made the intersection hazardous,” she continues.…
And her advice to those girls who want to study civil engineering is: “If you’re interested in it … why not?
“I always figured being the first in something was a challenge.” The N&O Dec. 4, 1960
Read more stories from local and state history and send us your own stories on the blog Past Times, newsobserver.com/past-times.
Leonard: 919-829-4866 or firstname.lastname@example.org