Women in Transportation History: Marilyn J. Reece, Civil Engineer

Civil engineer Marilyn Jorgenson Reece was born in the city of Kenmare in South Dakota in 1926. After graduating from the University of Minnesota with a bachelor’s degree in engineering in 1948, Reece moved to Los Angeles and started working for the California State Division of Highways (now part of the California Department of Transportation, or Caltrans).

In 1954, Reece made history as the first woman to become a fully licensed civil engineer in California. She brought to fruition a number of engineering projects in the Golden State. Many consider Reece’s crowning achievement to be her design of the interchange of the Santa Monica Freeway (Interstate 10) and the San Diego Freeway (Interstate 405) in Los Angeles. This heavily used junction, which made its debut in 1964, was the first one designed in California by a female engineer.

The project drew upon the era’s most advanced engineering practices to create a highway segment that could readily accommodate traffic moving through the area at high speeds. Reece recalled in a 1995 Los Angeles Times interview how she “put her heart and soul” into that ambitious effort. She received the Governor’s Design Excellence Award by California Governor Pat Brown for the project.

After retiring from Caltrans in 1983, Reece taught engineering classes at California State University at Long Beach. She was designated a life member of the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1991. Reece died in the community of Hacienda Heights, California, in 2004. She was 77.

Four years later, the I-10/I-405 interchange was officially renamed the Marilyn Jorgenson Reece Memorial Interchange. This renaming ceremony took place at the Westdale maintenance yard directly under the interchange, and California Secretary of State Debra Bowen used the occasion to highlight Reece’s pioneering role. Bowen said, “Marilyn’s accomplishments inspired not just engineers, but countless women who wanted to go into engineering and other professions and yet were hesitant to redraw the boundaries.”

For more information on Marilyn Jorgenson Reece, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marilyn_Jorgenson_Reece and her 21 May 2004 Los Angeles Times obituary at http://articles.latimes.com/2004/may/21/local/me-reece21.

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