AWWA Articles

Pioneering female AWWA member started career during World War II

Leaping over obstacles has never been a problem for 96-year-old Terry Glenn, a member of the American Water Works Association (AWWA) since 1959.

She was the first woman to earn a mechanical engineering degree at Northwestern University in Chicago, Ill. (news clip at right), even though her program was temporarily Terry Glennhalted – by World War II. 

To support the war effort, she spent a year working as an inspector in a local plant that was converted to produce weapons, then continued to work part-time until she graduated in 1943 at the age of 23. 

“I happen to still have an armor-piercing shell,” she said. “It had a crack and I didn’t pass it during inspection, so I brought it home. I use it as a weight to strengthen my arms every now and then.”

As the daughter of a U.S. military veteran father and a mother who taught her to believe she could do anything, Glenn was drawn to math and science as a young student. When she was told there wasn’t room in Northwestern’s engineering program for her, she majored in English – but added physics and math to her curriculum. She switched to engineering when male students began enlisting in the armed services during the war and worked her way through school while living at home.

“I actually was most interested in aviation, and engineering was the closest thing to it,” she said. “I did end up with a private pilot’s license. The most fun I ever had was taking a flight with another pilot over New Guinea and the South Seas.”

After graduating, Glenn continued with graduate courses in Chicago while working at the district metropolitan water works department. She then joined the Chicago office of Greeley and Hansen after meeting one of the partners through a common interest in sailing.

“There was a shortage of workers at the time, and Greeley and Hansen paid $25 to people who lined up someone to work there,” Glenn said. “We were good at figuring out new ways to solve problems. Mr. Greeley had gone to Germany and brought back some ideas. We didn’t have patents on our work; anything we used was available to any other company.”

One of Glenn’s female co-workers suggested she join AWWA. “She said there weren’t too many female members and saw that I got signed up,” Glenn said. “I regularly went to their local events, and one conference in Tennessee, and got their magazine. I’d get an idea here or there to use in my work.”

Terry Glenn at deskAs a woman working in the water sector, Glenn (pictured at Greeley and Hansen) said she didn’t make the same salary as a man and encountered a few other hurdles but “you could get over them if you persisted.” 

“For example, I liked going to different pumping stations by myself but at first they didn’t want to send me into the field by myself,” she said. “I thought that was nonsense. I went to every kind of neighborhood before I was through and never found one that I considered dangerous.”

Glenn continued working with Greeley and Hansen on water treatment projects in Chicago and across the East Coast until she retired at age 65. “I worked on water and sewage projects all over the country, and one of my favorite things since then has been to visit treatment plants wherever I go, and I’ve been to every state,” she said.
She continued to work as a consultant with the firm for more than 20 years after her retirement. “It was even more interesting and fun, and it worked out very nicely that I could travel in-between projects,” she said. She received AWWA’s Life Member Status Award in 1989.  
Terry Glenn sailing
Glenn’s passion for sailing led to many travel adventures. In 1948, she crewed on one of the 18-month journeys of the brigantine Yankee (pictured at right), a steel hulled schooner that was famous for being the ship used by Irving Johnson and Exy Johnson to circumnavigate the globe four times in 11 years. 

She also sailed the Mediterranean and the rivers of Turkey and explored areas of Burma (now known as Myanmar), India, Thailand and Australia. She raced a dinghy for years, winning several regattas. 

Terry Glenn with antique planeGlenn’s most recent accomplishment was recovering from a stroke and two hip replacements at the age of 90. In true form, she maintained her independence by moving to a new apartment in Portland, Ore., close to family members. 

For physical therapy, she and a niece signed on as trainee crew on a tall ship called the Tenacious and sailed from the north coast of Spain to the Canary Islands. Her most recent outing (pictured at left) was a half-hour flight in a biplane at the annual Hood River Fly-In that celebrates antique aircraft.