Living during a time when women from her class were expected to devote their lives to being good wives and mothers, Kate Gleason refused to be limited to these roles. Like her mother’s famous friend, Susan B. Anthony, Gleason believed that women and men should be treated equally.
In 1884, Gleason was the first woman to enroll in the Sibley College of Mechanical Engineering and Mechanic Arts at Cornell University, making her one of the first female engineering students in the country. She dropped out before completing her degree to return to Rochester to help run her father’s business, the Gleason Works. She served as secretary and treasurer for the company and traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe as one of the earliest female saleswomen.
In 1918, Gleason became the first woman member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. She was also the first woman to join the German Engineering Society and the American Concrete Institute. Observing a need for safe, affordable housing for families in East Rochester, Gleason designed and built an entire neighborhood of concrete cottages, which she called Concrest. These homes are still standing almost 100 years later.
In conquering professional territories that were traditionally reserved for men, Kate Gleason not only made valuable contributions to the fields of mechanical engineering, business, and construction, she also presented an inspiring model for other women.