We know women traditionally have been a minority in the concrete industry. While the numbers may have been small, it's encouraging to discover how women have been involved in our industry's development.

I've been perusing the archives of CONCRETE CONSTRUCTION magazine. This year is the 50th anniversary of THE CONCRETE PRODUCER's sister publication, so we've been reminiscing about the concrete industry's history. I found this item from the January 1957 issue. While the reporter did feature a woman, how he described her is another story.

Another Male Specialty Taken Over by a Female

One of the last exclusively masculine fields of endeavor, the rough-and-tumble concrete contracting business, has been invaded by a woman. She is Miss Anna Cecilia Merenda of Houston, sole owner of the A.C. Construction Co., which specializes in driveway work.

Miss Merenda started in the concrete business with a partner in 1950, and a year later she opened her own office. She admits it's a field that would more often appeal to men, but she likes the outdoor aspects of contracting, enjoys dealing with people, and likes being her own boss. She admits the initials A.C. in the company name stand for Anna Cecilia, but insists that this hasn't proved to be the insuperable handicap it might seem to be.

The only specifications we've been able to run down on Miss Merenda indicate that she's just five feet tall, weighs 110 pounds, and hasn't so far found it necessary to either act or dress like a man in order to compete successfully in what is still primarily a masculine business.

Flash in the pan?

We can look back at a news report like that and be amused. The reporter's writing reflected the industry perceptions of that era. And perhaps she was just a flash in the pan.

Well, it turns out that in 2005, Merenda retired at the age of 82 after 53 years as a concrete contractor.

Her story was included in “A comparative analysis between SA and USA women entrepreneurs in construction,” by Ingrid Vivienne Verwey. She describes Merenda's success.

Her company built roads, sewer lines, sidewalks, and home foundations. At one point it had an average weekly payroll of $30,000 and bid on jobs up to $500,000. She did work for both government and private entities. Not bad for the “little woman” who invaded a man's specialty.

Merenda never had a “major” problem as a woman contractor. Yet, there were a few stumbling blocks. When she couldn't oversee a plant project because she was a woman, she worked through her employees. And when she was denied a business loan because she was a single woman, she simply went to another bank.

She was successful apparently because she had the same qualities of any good business owner. Those around her said she treated her employees like family. She expected only the best and was honest.

Merenda believed women should pursue careers in concrete construction and not be afraid to take chances.

There are other early leaders like her. And she must have known many of them because she became a member of the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC).

NAWIC was a fledgling association when started in 1955. Now with more than 5500 members, NAWIC celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2005, the same year that Merenda retired.

“Women in Concrete” brings you stories about women who are making a difference in the concrete industry. Each month we will bring you profiles, studies, or surveys to show you the latest on women in the concrete industry. Send your comments or suggestions to editor Kari Moosmann atkmoosmann@hanleywood.com.