Irene E. Ryan: Tech’s First Woman Graduate
In honor of the upcoming International Women’s Day, here’s a look back at the first female graduate of our school.
Irene E. Ryan was not one to let anyone tell her what to do. She was a pilot, a mother, a self-employed consulting engineer, and held public office- all at a time when society discouraged women from doing most of those things. Her graduation from Tech was significant for the school, but was just one part of her illustrious career.
Born in 1909, Ryan developed a love of flying while working for a construction company in Texas. When she was just 22 she packed up and moved to Anchorage. There she worked various jobs while she got her pilot’s license, and in 1932 she became the first female aviator in the territory to fly solo. But after a few years she decided she wanted to do more, so she headed south to the little town of Socorro.
At the New Mexico School of Mines, as it was then called, Ryan was the first woman student. It is not that the school had specifically banned women, but women going there simply was not done- until Ryan, that is. In 1939 she received her Bachelors of Science in Geology, making history. At that time she also met fellow Techie John Edward “Pat” Ryan, who she married and raised two children with back in Alaska.
In addition to being a mother, she worked as a mining, geological, petroleum, and civil engineer, and eventually owned her own consulting firm. Her notable work includes designing the Anchorage International Airport and the Skagway - Fairbanks pipeline.
Ryan also served in the Alaska Territorial House of Representatives and in the Alaska State Senate in the late 1950s. And she was commissioner of the Department of Economic Development for Alaska from 1970 to 1974. So well respected was she that, upon her death in 1997, the Governor of Alaska ordered flags be flown at half-mast. She is also in the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame.
Ultimately, Irene Ryan opened the door for other women at Tech, and her life was full of accomplishments. The school is proud to have her among its graduates. Her unwavering pursuit of her dreams is a lesson for us all.
Reference: Guengerich, T., Kappel, T., & Kimble, V. (2014). Memories of a miner: Irene Ryan. Gold Pan, 10-12.
- Evelyn Byrd