Born in Rochester, NY, on November 24, 1865, Catherine Anselm “Kate” Gleason (1865-1933) was just 12 years old when she asked for and received permission to work in her father’s machine-tool company. Throughout her life, Gleason defied traditional expectations for women. Becoming a successful businesswoman, real estate developer, mechanical engineer, and community advocate, she left an indelible mark on Rochester, the nation, and the world.
Living by the Latin motto, possum volo (“I can, if I will”), Kate Gleason accomplished much in her lifetime. Not one to back down from a challenge, she conquered professional territories that were commonly reserved for men. In doing so, she not only made valuable contributions to the fields of mechanical engineering, business, and construction, she also presented an inspiring model for other women. In 1928, she told American Magazine’s Helen Christine Bennett, “I have done what I set out to do, and much more.”
Over her lifetime, Kate Gleason wrote letters to family, friends, and colleagues that chronicle her role in her father’s business, as well her collegiate experiences, her social and philanthropic activities, and her interpersonal relationships. These letters paint a picture of a smart, strong-willed, and determined woman struggling to make a place for herself in the male world of business and engineering. They also reveal the playful side of a woman who has sometimes been characterized as domineering and stern. Janis F. Gleason discovered the letters in Gleason Works offices while researching her book, The Life and Letters of Kate Gleason (RIT Press, 2010). She has generously loaned the letters to the Rochester Public Library to be digitized and included in Rochester Voices; the original letters are housed in the Rare Books, Special Collections and Preservation Department at the University of Rochester.
Explore the stories, letters, photographs, and other materials presented here and discover Kate Gleason for yourself!