Emma Strada, The first woman to earn an Engineering degree in Italy, at the Politecnico di Torino

It was 7 September 1908 when this headline first appeared in La Stampa:

“Last Saturday, Emma Strada graduated with honours in Civil Engineering at our Alta Scuola Politecnica. Miss Strada is therefore the first woman-engineer to be recognised in Italy and has just two or three other colleagues abroad”.

Emma Strada opened the doors for women in the engineering world. Her story marked the beginning of a career that defied the stereotypes and conventions of the time.

After graduating, she began working for her father Enrico, already an acclaimed engineer. She immediately stood out for her skill and dedication, working in various areas of structural and infrastructural civil engineering.

Her perseverance led her to contribute to projects of national importance, such as the design of a drop tunnel at a mine in Ollomont, Valle d’Aosta, and the construction of the Catanzaro “auto-moto-funicular” railway in Calabria, where she supervised the construction of the “curved and sloping tunnel with a section under the town” to link Catanzaro to Sala over a distance of 7 km.

Despite her outstanding expertise, Emma Strada was unable to sign many of her designs.
This was presumably due to restrictions that prevented women from registering with the professional associations of the time, a restriction that would only be lifted in 1919.

Emma Strada is an eloquent example of the Matilda Effect, the phenomenon that aims to devalue and ignore women or improperly attribute their technical and scientific achievements to men.

In 1957, together with other professionals in the sector, she founded the AIDIA – Associazione Italiana Donne Ingegneri e Architetti (Italian Association of Women Engineers and Architects). The Association’s main aim was to promote the exchange of ideas between women professionals, highlight their role in science and the technical professions, encouraging mutual assistance between these women and the consolidation of cultural and professional links with similar associations in Italy and abroad.

With her courage and resourcefulness, Emma Strada helped break down gender barriers in civil engineering and STEM subjects, paving the way for a new generation of women determined to make their mark in a professional world historically dominated by men.