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Hurd, Mary Krumboltz

Published onJul 30, 2021
Hurd, Mary Krumboltz

(December 24, 1925 – September 27, 2013)

Quick Facts

Alumni Mary Krumboltz Hurd was one of the first women to prominently impact the field of engineering, breaking many barriers previously excluded to women. Her research in concrete transformed to her publishing the industry “bible” - Formwork for Concrete.

Source: College of Engineering, Iowa State University

Mary Krumboltz was born in Ottumwa, Iowa and enrolled at Iowa State College (now University) as an engineering major during World War II. As a junior in 1945, she became the first woman elected to edit Iowa State’s engineering magazine, the Iowa Engineer. In 1946, Krumboltz became the second female student at Iowa State to earn a Woman’s Badge from the engineering honor society Tau Beta Pi (which did not then admit women to full membership). During the 1940s, it was still unusual enough for women to major in engineering that her work and photo were featured in the Des Moines Register. (image below)

The first two Iowa State recipients of the Tau Beta Pi Woman’s Badge, Eloise (James) Zimmerman, Architectural Engineering, and Mary (Krumboltz) Hurd, Civil Engineering, were featured in the Des Moines Register on 9 June, 1946.

Krumboltz graduated in 1947 with a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering, and was then hired as an engineering assistant at the American Concrete Institute (ACI) to help write, edit, and produce its technical publications. She recalled, “Engineers are notoriously not good at written communication, and I had a lot of writing skills as well as the engineering skills. It was perfect, EXCEPT they didn’t want a woman,” until a professor intervened to facilitate her hiring. 1

In 1949, Krumboltz married Lyman Hurd, and later had one son and two daughters. Following her husband’s academic path, between 1950 and 1954, she took graduate courses at the University of Chicago, University of Michigan, and University of Illinois. From 1956 to 1958, Hurd served as associate editor of the ACI Journal. After that, she set up private practice preparing engineering reports, industrial articles, and other technical material. Among her publications, in 1963 she wrote Formwork for Concrete, which became the standard reference on the practice, theory, and safety issues involved in designing and building wooden or steel frames to support newly-laid concrete during hardening. The title page read “M.K. Hurd,” since she “didn’t want people to not buy the book because it was written by a woman.” 2 Her book became known as the industry “bible,” was widely used by engineering students at ISU and elsewhere, and went into seven editions, selling over 125,000 copies by 2006.

In 1966, Hurd returned to the American Concrete Institute as associate editor, coordinating ACI’s special publications. From 1967 to 1976, she served as an ACI staff engineer, working with technical committees to review and write standards and codes. To promote the concrete industry’s image in the early 1970s, Hurd helped establish the practice of having college engineering students build concrete canoes and race them in organized competitions, showing off their technical skills and attracting popular attention. Between 1976 and 1980, Hurd returned to work as an engineering consultant and writer, with particular expertise in construction and concrete-related topics. She worked at Concrete Construction magazine, first as its editor-in-chief (1981-1983) and then senior engineering editor (1983-1990). After 1990, she again performed private client work as an engineering writer and consultant.

Hurd published over 230 journal articles on topics such as concrete swimming pools, floors, walls, panels, tiles, stairs, pavement, homes, bridges, furniture, driveways, and notable constructions, including the 1976 Olympics Velodrome, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and Usonian homes, and Chicago’s Soldier Field. She won the ACI Construction Practice Award in both 1982 and 1988, recognizing her authorship of excellent articles on bridge construction. In 1999, Engineering News-Record named Hurd to its list of people making “outstanding contributions to the construction industry.”

Hurd had a special interest in making concrete colorful and beautiful. In 1985, she organized the ACI Committee on Concrete Aesthetics. She chaired that group from 1985 to 1991, writing and speaking about past and present uses of concrete in artwork, architecture, and recreation.

Hurd won multiple awards from ACI, including its 1994 Henry C. Turner Medal for “highly meritorious service to the concrete industry,” and was elected to its highest status, Honorary Membership, in 1998. Hurd also received multiple honors from Iowa State University, starting with its Professional Achievement Citation in Engineering in 1982. In 2004, she became the first woman to earn the Anson Marston Medal for lifetime professional achievement, the highest accolade given by ISU’s College of Engineering. Nominating her, ISU engineering professor Max Porter wrote, “Anyone in the field of Civil-Structural or Construction Engineering would instantly recognize her name…. She is a stellar example of a superb writer in a technical field.” Hurd was chosen as a “Person of Distinction” for the celebration of ISU’s sesquicentennial in 2008. The Alumni Merit Award from the Iowa State University Alumni Association was posthumously awarded to Hurd in 2013.

Selected Sources

Mary Krumboltz Hurd Papers, MS 275, Archives of Women in Science and Engineering, Iowa State University Library Special Collections and University Archives.

See also Amy Bix, Girls Coming to Tech!: A History of American Engineering Education for Women (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2013)

Chris Neary, “Mary Hurd, women-in-engineering pioneer and Iowa State alumna, dies at 87,” ISU College of Engineering News, October 14, 2013.

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