Mary Hurd wroteFormwork for Concrete, which is in its seventh edition and has sold 125,000 copies.
Mary Hurd wroteFormwork for Concrete, which is in its seventh edition and has sold 125,000 copies.

Many consider the 1963 book Formwork for Concrete the bible for the best information on construction details, design, materials, and planning of formwork. Many readers at the time, and probably still today, knew the author only as M.K. Hurd.

Here's your chance to meet the author: Mary 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. Today, the book is in its seventh edition and has sold more than 125,000 copies.

Most women writers back then only worked on the society pages or wrote obituaries for newspapers. Hurd not only had to contend with that, but she also was a 1947 civil engineering graduate from Iowa State University.

“They didn't look at me seriously,” says Hurd. She had been the only female graduate in her class and was an excellent student. She would have qualified for Tau Beta Pi, but women weren't allowed into the engineering honor society at that time. And most companies were not interested in hiring a female engineer.

One of her professors knew that the American Concrete Institute (ACI) in Detroit was looking for 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, Her professor finally convinced the association to hire her, and thus began her lifelong association with ACI.

She didn't plan to write a book. In the early 1960s, ACI asked Hurd to meet with Committee 347 and to help with the publication. “I thought it would be like a typical engineering book with chapters written by different experts,” she recalls. “That is not what they wanted. They wanted me to write the whole book.”

Not a typical book

So Hurd met with committee members, wrote the chapters, and had the committee review the final version. The result was a book far superior to the typical committee document. It was complete except for that last-minute adjustment—changing the byline to M.K. Hurd. Formwork for Concrete today remains the primary reference on formwork.

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 there.

She had a supervisor at one point who gave her raises to keep her salary competitive with the new, male engineers. He knew her knowledge and experience were far more valuable than that of the new guys out of school. He didn't care that she was a woman.

But there were some rough spots. Hurd recalls one job working for a surveying company. “One of the men in the office refused to even speak to me because he felt I shouldn't be there,” she explains.

Hurd started writing for CONCRETE CONSTRUCTION, THE CONCRETE PRODUCER's sister magazine, in the 1970s and became the editor in 1981. She eventually moved from Chicago to Detroit, but remained on the magazine's staff as engineering editor.

CONCRETE CONSTRUCTION's editors always valued Hurd's input. She wrote about issues that contractors had not even considered yet. She was ahead of her time. As far back as 1983, she wrote articles advocating concrete for home building.

Hurd, 80, and now retired, has written more than 230 articles and has received many awards, including ACI's Concrete Practice Award. The engineer/ journalist was the first woman to receive the Anson Marston Medal, the highest award bestowed by Iowa State's College of Engineering.

We are 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.

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