Now Showing in the Museum: Marilyn Jorgenson Reece Plaque
The new plaque honors the contributions of the stateâ€™s first female registered civil engineer.
In an era when families nationwide were tuning in to watch June Cleaver mop floors, bake cookies, and serve dinner in pearls and heels, Marilyn Jorgenson Reece was undertaking a new kind of “women’s work”: civil engineering.
Reece was the state’s first female registered civil engineer – no small accomplishment in the 1950s, a time when acceptable professional roles for women were largely limited to teaching, nursing and secretarial work. To honor Reece’s accomplishments, on March 4, District 7 unveiled a permanent bronze plaque in the Headquarters Museum.
District Director Mike Miles served as master of ceremonies for the event, attended by about 45 friends, family members, current Caltrans staff and former coworkers. Event speakers included Kathy Caldwell, president-elect of the American Society of Civil Engineers, and Sutida Bergquist, president of the Los Angeles Section of Professional Engineers in California Government.
“Reece is emblematic of women coming into their own in the formerly male-dominated professions,” Miles said. “She paved the way for all the women who came after her.”
That she did. Fresh out of college, Reece began working with the California Division of Highways (now Caltrans) in 1948, rising from junior civil engineer to senior transportation engineer over her 35-year career with the department. She passed the state licensing exam to become a registered civil engineer in 1954.
Among many important infrastructure projects, Reece designed the Santa Monica Freeway (I-10)/San Diego Freeway (I-405) Interchange, receiving a Governor’s Design Award for the project in 1964. Two years ago, the interchange was officially named the “Marilyn Jorgenson Reece Memorial Interchange.”
Reece’s daughters, District 7 Senior Materials Engineer Kirsten Stahl and Anne Bartolotti, shared memories of their mother at the plaque unveiling.
“When I came home with a report card with mostly A’s and a few A-minuses, she would sit me down and say, ‘How can we bring up those A-minuses?’” Stahl said. She recalled that although her mother could be demanding, her drive for excellence encouraged others to do their best work.
Reece’s best work is evident throughout the District – not only in the freeways she built, but in the esteem of her friends, family and coworkers and in the ambitions of the many women who have followed in her footsteps.