The Golden Gate Bridge

Ruth Gordon

Ruth Gordon
When Ruth Gordon chained herself to the Pacific Stock Exchange on August 26, 1980, she was worried. Not that she'd be arrested or labeled an upstart. A woman in a traditionally male profession, she'd heard that kind of name-calling before. But she was concerned that a banner her fellow protesters had hung on the building's façade was blocking both of the building's exits. An ERA advocate, yes, but first she was an engineer and engineers are forever concerned for the safety of individuals inside buildings.

But Gordon was more than just an engineer. She was a pioneer. She was one of just two female engineers in her Stanford class of 1948 and the only woman to graduate in civil engineering and earn a master's in structures. Despite her credentials, she would often use just her initials to gain a job interview. Her credentials finally caught the eye of the late Isador Thompson a San Francisco structural engineer who "didn't care if you were green," Gordon reported later. That was in 1950.

Over the next 35 years, Gordon rose to the top of her profession and became the first woman Structural Engineer in California in 1959; the first woman member of SEAONC in 1953, the first woman president of the Bay Area Engineering Council in 1982-83, the first female to receive Tau Beta Pi's Eminent Engineer Award (1995), and many other awards and recognitions. She lectured frequently to young women on the importance of studying science and math and was a key spokesperson for the profession on earthquake safety and protection. She has been profiled in The Women's Book of World Records and Achievements.

From 1959 through 1984, Gordon was employed by the Office of the State Architect/Structural Safety Section, for which she monitored the construction of all hospital and public school buildings in the nine-county area from Mendocino to Monterey. In 1984 she established Pegasus Engineering, Inc., a consulting engineering firm. In 1988 she completed an earthquake survivability study of 42 hospitals for the California Office of Statewide Hospital Planning and Development. Following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, she performed postearthquake evaluations of 14 multistory buildings at San Francisco General Hospital and 12 buildings at the San Francisco Kaiser Hospital.

An avid sailor, Gordon purchased a 26-foot sloop in 1950 with her husband, Michael Schnapp. When he was called to duty in the Korean War, Gordon and three friends formed the an all-female racing team. The Madeleine didn't win the first race, but did sail past two all-male crews. Gordon went on to become the recipient of the highest honor of the Pacific Inter-Club Yachting Association: the 2001 Yachtsman of the Year.