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  • Writer's pictureFrank Victoria

The Woman Who Oversaw the Construction of the Brooklyn Bridge

Here’s one for you ladies. Not many people know of her. A new heroine for you all.

The Brooklyn Bridge was an incredible feat of engineering, but it was a nightmare to build. It took 14 years to construct  from 1869 to 1883. At least 20 workers died during construction, including John Augustus Roebling, the bridge’s chief engineer. His son Washington Roebling, who helped his father design the bridge, took over the project. But after spending 12 hours inside a compressed chamber while working underwater, Roebling developed decompression sickness, better known as “the bends,” that severely and permanently affected his health. On paper, he continued overseeing the project until the finish line, but in reality it was his wife, Emily Warren Roebling, who got the job done.

Emily started out as a liaison between the bridge crew and her husband, but she had a good mind for engineering, and soon grew proficient in all aspects of the construction, so much so that some assumed she had fully taken over. She also had a sharp political mind and was able to manage the complicated web of interests associated with the bridge—even convincing the mayor of Brooklyn, who was considering replacing the chief engineer, to keep her husband on. Though she served as the de facto head of the project, she had to keep the extent of her involvement hidden, fearing her husband would be replaced if people knew he wasn’t in full control. 

Washington Roebling, meanwhile, was too ill to manage the day-to-day work. He watched the progress through a telescope from a bedroom in Brooklyn Heights, but he stopped visiting the construction site. When the bridge was finally completed, Emily rode in the first carriage to cross the impressive span, carrying a rooster for good luck. She was well aware of the magnitude of her accomplishment. “I have more brains, common sense and know-how generally than have any two engineers, civil or uncivil,” she once wrote, “and but for me the Brooklyn Bridge would never have had the name Roebling in any way connected with it!”

What say you? Anyone want to share one of their lady heroines?


Frank Victoria is an award-winning author and screenwriter. He’s been an Amazon bestseller with his recent book,The Founders’ Plot, a political thriller for our times. He donates proceeds of his books to Tunnels to Towers and Fisher House, helping military veterans and first responders. His novella,The Ultimate Bet is available on his website and Amazon. Check out his new website:Frank M. Victoria

©2024 Frank Victoria

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