On December 12, 1881, people in New York City would have witnessed a strange sight. High above the East River, a line of men in business suits were cautiously walking along a narrow path of wooden boards laid down across the open steel frame of a huge unfinished bridge. Strangest of all, the line was led by a woman, her long skirt billowing in the wind as she showed them details of the construction. When they reached the New York side, everyone toasted her with champagne. It was the first official crossing of what would be called the Brooklyn Bridge.
Many books and films have featured the Brooklyn Bridge and many people in New Jersey have crossed it. Built between 1869 and 1883, without modern machines or even electric light, it was the one of the most amazing technological achievements of its time. Yet few people know that a woman helped supervise much of its construction.
After her husband became bedridden, Emily Roebling became his liaison to the project – eventually communicating with the engineers and suppliers on the project so well that it was even rumored that she had become the Chief Engineer herself! Later she helped design the family mansion in Trenton, studied law, attended the coronation of the Tsar of Russia and even took tea with Queen Victoria. At the time of her death, she was called “one of the most distinguished women in the country” and “the most famous woman in New Jersey” – yet today most people don’t even know her name!
Hear her tell her story.
Carol Simon Levin is a Youth Services Librarian at the Bridgewater Branch of the Somerset County Library. She is an experienced storyteller and a member of the New Jersey Storyteller’s Networkhttp://njstorynet.org/wpnjstory/carol-simon-levin. She has always been fascinated by the history of technology and women’s history and is currently writing a book on Emily Warren Roebling.
She is happy to bring Emily Roebling to libraries, senior centers, historical societies, schools and other venues. The presentation includes a “lantern slide show” (PowerPoint presentation) and will be made in costume impersonating Emily Roebling or in street clothes as a straight lecture if preferred. If interested, please contact Carol Levin at: cslevin59 @ gmail (dot) com, 908 781-6041. The program can be tailored for children, teen, or adult audiences.