Justicia Espada Acuña: Chile’s Trailblazing Female Engineer and Pioneer in Science

OV Digital Desk

Image Courtesy: Google Doodle

Justicia Espada Acuña (14 January 1893 – July 1980) was a Chilean civil engineer. Justicia was the first woman to become a civil engineer in Chile.

Life and Career

 Justicia Espada Acuña Mena was born on 14 January 1893 in the Chilean capital of Santiago on this day in 1893. Her father was a civil engineer who encouraged her and her seven siblings to pursue their dreams and challenge unjust societal norms. Following high school, she studied mathematics but soon became interested in engineering. In 1912, she became the first woman to join the Faculty of Physical Sciences and Mathematics at the University of Chile, and she made history when she graduated with a degree in civil engineering seven years later.

The next year, Acuña began her trailblazing career as a calculator for the State Railways’ Department of Roads and Works (Empresa de los Ferrocarriles del Estado). She worked for the company until 1954, excluding a break to raise her seven children.

She was inducted into the College of Engineers of Chile’s Gallery of Illustrious Engineers in 1981, and around a decade later the Institute of Engineers established an award in her honor for outstanding female engineers. In addition, in 2018 the Faculty of Physical Science and Mathematics of the University of Chile renamed its central tower after Acuña to memorialize the faculty’s first female student. She died in July 1980.

Award and Legacy

She has received numerous recognition and awards throughout her life. In July 1980, to honor Acuña’s effort for the advancement of women, the Chilean College of Engineers established the “Gallery of Illustrious Engineers”, where she was included. In 1991, the Justicia Acuña Mena Award was created; it is awarded every two years to an outstanding woman engineer in the practice of her profession. On 14 January 2021, Google Doodle celebrated Justicia Espada Acuña’s 128th birthday.