Zamfirescu was born in Galați, Romania on November 10, 1887. Her father, Atanase Leonida, was a career officer while her mother, Matilda Gill, was the daughter of a French-born engineer. Her brother was the engineer Dimitrie Leonida.
Due to prejudices against women in the sciences, Zamfirescu was rejected by the School of Bridges and Roads in Bucharest. In 1909 she was accepted at the Royal Academy of Technology Berlin, Charlottenburg.
She graduated in 1912, with a degree in engineering. It has been claimed that Zamfirescu was the world’s first female engineer, but the Irish engineer Alice Perry graduated six years before Zamfirescu in 1906.
Here are five things you should know about Elisa Leonida Zamfirescu as her legacy is being honored:
1. She was rejected from her first school of choice due to discrimination against women
Zamfirescu, who grew up with 10 siblings, wanted to study at the School of Bridges and Roads in Bucharest after graduating high school but was rejected due to her gender.
Instead, she went to the Royal Technical University of Charlottenburg, now known as the Technical University of Berlin, where she studied mechanical engineering.
Zamfirescu enrolled in 1909 and graduated in 1912, becoming one of the first female engineers to do so in Europe.
2. She once worked for the Red Cross
Following her graduation, Zamfirescu went to work at Bucharest’s Geological Institute, where she was the head of her laboratory.
During World War I, she worked for the Red Cross as a hospital manager around the small town of Mărășești, which was the site of the final major battle between Romania and Germany on the Romanian front in 1917.
3. She was a passionate and innovative worker
As part of her work as the head of her lab, Zamfirescu brought in new methods and new analysis techniques to study minerals and substances such as water, coal, and oil, according to Assistant Lecturer PhDc. Eng Iulia-Victoria Neagoe.
She is remembered as a dedicated engineer who worked long hours from morning to evening.
Zamfirescu kept working past retirement age and didn’t fully retire until the age of 75 years old after a four-decade career, according to Neagoe.
4. There is a street named after her
The street where Zamfirescu lived in Bucharest was renamed after her in 1993, 20 years after her death.
This isn’t the only way the engineer’s name still resonates today: an award named after was created in 1997.
The “Premiul Elisa Leonida-Zamfirescu” honors female contributors to the fields of technology and science.
5. She was an advocate for international disarmament
In addition to her work as a chemical engineer, Zamfirescu took a stance in favor of disarmament, according to Neagoe.
She filed a complaint with the disarmament committee at London’s Lancaster House, with a focus on the nuclear threat.