We consider ourselves lucky when we can find an engineer who can write well. It's a rare find. And Mary Hurd is all that—engineer, superb writer, and leader.
As a former editor of Concrete Construction she forged her own way at a time when few women were working in concrete construction. Back in 1947 when she graduated from Iowa State University in civil engineering, most companies weren't interested in hiring women. “They didn't look at me seriously,” says Hurd. She had been the only female graduate in her class and an excellent student. She would have qualified for Tau Beta Pi, but women weren't allowed into the engineering honor society at that time.
One of her professors knew that the American Concrete Institute (ACI) in Detroit was looking for someone with Hurd's skills—an engineer who could write well. Hurd had writing experience as the editor of Iowa State's Iowa Engineer magazine. It was the perfect fit, except that ACI also did not want a woman, Hurd recalls. Her professor finally convinced them to hire her and thus began her lifelong association with ACI.
Mary Hurd wrote the bible on formwork, Formwork for Concrete. First published in 1963, the book is now in its seventh edition, and remains the primary reference to turn to for information on design, construction details, materials, and planning of formwork. The book has sold more than 125,000 copies.
She never really planned on writing a book. In the early 1960s, ACI asked Hurd to meet with Committee 347 and help them with the book. “I really thought it would be like a typical engineering book with chapters written by different experts,” says Hurd. “That is not what they wanted. They wanted me to write the whole book.” So Hurd met with committee members, wrote the chapters, and had the committee review the final result. The result was a book far superior to the typical committee document. A last-minute change that Hurd made was to change the byline to M.K. Hurd. “I didn't want people to not buy the book because it was written by a woman,” she says. And it worked; most readers never knew that M.K. Hurd was a woman.
Hurd left ACI three times in her career, once for her family and twice due to dissatisfaction with ACI, although for the most part she was treated well at ACI. She had a supervisor at one point that would give her raises to keep her salary competitive with the new, incoming male engineers. He knew that she had knowledge and experience that was far more valuable than the new guys out of school. He didn't care that she was a woman.
She does recall one job she had working for a surveying company that was not so good. “One of the men in the office refused to even speak to me because he felt I shouldn't be there,” says Hurd.
Hurd started writing for Concrete Construction in the 1970s. She was asked to be the editor, but couldn't make the move to Chicago at that time, although she continued to contribute. In 1981 Hurd moved to Chicago and became editor. She eventually returned to Detroit, although she remained on the magazine staff as engineering editor.
Concrete Construction always valued Hurd's input because she was ahead of her time. She wrote about issues that contractors had not even considered yet. As far back as 1983 she wrote articles advocating concrete for homebuilding—an issue that is important today.
Hurd has written over 230 articles, and received many awards, including ACI's Concrete Practice Award. She was the first female to receive the Anson Marston Medal, the highest award bestowed by Iowa State's College of Engineering.