Roebling, Emily Warren

Emily Warren Roebling

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Dates of Birth and Death

September 23, 1843-February 28, 1903


Cold Spring, New York

Major projects

  • Brooklyn Bridge, 1883, New York, NY.


Early life and education

Emily Warren Roebling was born on September 23, 1843, in Cold Spring, Putnam County, New York, to her parents Sylvanus and Phebe Warren. She was the second youngest of twelve children and grew up in a socially prominent family with ancestors that traced back to the Mayflower. After her father had passed away her older brother Gouverneur Warren, became a very influential part of her life. He helped encourage her to enroll into Georgetown Visitation Convent in Washington D.C. There she studied history, geography, rhetoric and grammar, algebra, French, housekeeping, tapestry, and piano. After completing school at Georgetown Visitation and receiving highest honors she went back home and lived with her mother.

After the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge, Emily decided that she wanted to go back to school to obtain a law degree. She decided to go back and study at New York University in the Women’s Law class; there she received her degree and was one of the first female lawyers in New York State.


After a few years home with her mother she went to visit her brother Gouverneur while he was serving in the military. While she was there she met a young man Washington Roebling, and after about a year, on January 18, 1865 Washington married Emily. Once they were married John A. Roebling sent his son Washington, and Emily to Europe so he could study a disease common to civil engineers called “the bends” or caisson disease. While in Europe Emily became pregnant with their first and only son John A. Roebling II and who was born on November 21, 1867.


During Washington Roebling’s time studying in Europe, Washington’s father, John A. Roebling, had accepted the job of Chief Engineer of building the Brooklyn Bridge, which would connect New York City to Brooklyn. While leading the project of building the bridge, John was caught in an unexpected accident, where his foot was crushed by a ferry pinning it against a piling. This caused the need for his toes to be amputated, and during the amputation he contracted a Tetanus infection, causing for the sudden death of John A. Roebling.

After the death of John A. Roebling, Washington was called to take over his father’s role as Chief Engineer. While working on the project for several years Washington suddenly contracted “the bends,” or caisson disease; from coming up out of the high pressure caissons to fast. After contracting the disease he was bedridden for the rest of his life unable to move. This caused the question of who would be the new Chief Engineer of the bridge since Washington couldn’t move anymore. In response to Washington’s condition Emily decided to step in and said that she would help to keep Washington updated and make it still possible for him to remain Chief Engineer even though he was trapped in bed.

To keep Washington as Chief Engineer Emily had to take the roles of messenger, engineer, and, secretary, this was to keep Washington as much involved in the decisions of Building the Bridge as possible. She would take the messages between her husband to the engineers and laborers working on the bridge. Washington would in the meantime be in their Brooklyn Heights home observing the bridge construction through a telescope. Meanwhile Emily would try to learn and develop knowledge of the different types of engineering used to build bridges. She learned about materials, the science behind stress, and the calculations of curves. All of this was used to help her understand and make it easier to explain to others when she was relaying messages and giving interviews in behalf of her husband. Overall, many people thought that it was her, who was the real Chief Engineer because of how much she did for her husband and what she did for the construction of the bridge.

Major Buildings and Projects

Brooklyn Bridge, New York, completed in 1883.

Press and Awards

After the bridge was finished in 1883 Emily was given the honor of being the first to cross the bridge by carriage. She was honored by so many for the amount devotion and sacrifice she made for her husband and the bridge. In honor of John A. Roebling, Washington Roebling, and Emily Warren Roebling ASCE or the American Society of Civil Engineers created the Roebling award. The purpose of the award was to honor the family who helped pioneer bridge building in the US. The award was first presented in 1995 and has been given out every other year since.

Later Life

Four years after the completion of her law degree Emily’s life sadly came to an end when she passed away on February 28, 1903 in their estate in Trenton, New Jersey. At the age of 59 Emly lost her fight with stomach cancer.


  • “Emily Warren Roebling | Biography – American Socialite, Builder, and Businesswoman.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Accessed July 10, 2015.
  • “EMILY WARREN ROEBLING.” : The Roebling Museum. Accessed July 10, 2015.
  • MacLean, Maggie. “Civil War Women.” Civil War Women. June 19, 2014. Accessed July 10, 2015.
  • “ASCE Metropolitan Section – Roebling Award.” ASCE Metropolitan Section – Roebling Award. Accessed July 10, 2015.