Kate Gleason grew up around her father’s machine shop, first located at Brown’s Race, and began working onsite from age eleven both out of familial duty and service to her father’s and mother’s aspirations. After learning of her elder half-brother’s death, Kate “walked down to the shop, mounted a stool and demanded work.” Her father gave her bookkeeping tasks and, from that time forward, Kate worked in the shop regularly. Over these years, she developed an interest in gearing and mechanical endeavors so much so that in 1884, she became the first woman to enroll in Cornell University’s Sibley College of Engineering and Mechanic Arts. There, she attended class in overalls and packed a worker’s lunch pail for her walk to Sibley Hall. Her tenure at Cornell was short lived as she was forced to drop out and return to Rochester, during the 1880s financial crisis, to work in the family business, where she had the opportunity to learn the machine tool business inside and out.
This still appears to have been taken by Kate Gleason on one of her many trips to Europe. She would often travel here as a member of Verein Deutscher Ingenieur, the German Engineering Society.
This image featuring a younger male, resembling James E. Gleason, is a still from footage presumably shot by Kate Gleason. In the sequence of stills surrounding this one, James and others are shown aboard a boat off Beaufort, SC. The scenery before and after depicts the tropical foliage and trees typical of Beaufort.
The automobile shown here is a 1928 Cadillac which was also known as the four-door, five-passenger V-8 Town Sedan. Presumably, this is Kate’s car.
These three women are wearing clothes typical of the 1920s — dropped waistlines, shapeless dresses, and cloche hats. The woman in the center is Kate Gleason’s sister, Eleanor. It is unclear which figure is Kate; perhaps she is the female on the right. Or, perhaps Kate is shooting this footage.
This image was taken by Kate Gleason in front of the Bayerischer Hof Hotel in Munich, Germany. In the 1920s, the Bayerischer was the largest hotel in Europe. It suffered severe damage during World War II, where all but one room was destroyed, but was rebuilt and remains a destination for wealthy patrons visiting Munich. Kate Gleason likely stayed at the Bayerischer during her many visits to Germany for both business and leisure.
The Moving Image Research Collection at the University of South Carolina Beaufort has recently preserved the 16mm black and white Kodak safety film recently identified as having belonged to Kate Gleason. The films feature Kate Gleason, her family and friends, and eminent members of the engineering profession. Recorded from approximately 1928 through 1931, these films give visual form to Gleason’s personal and professional life and may even allude to her interest in documenting, through film, her endeavors and those of her friends and colleagues. Information about the collection may be found here.
In addition to the advertisements for trailers, reproductions of photographs, presumably used by Kate and her associates at Northway Trailer, are included in the exhibit as testament to Kate’s entrepreneurial endeavors as well as her ability to bring her knowledge from gearing into this industry.
In the 1910s and 1920s, Kate Gleason built a country club and more than one hundred homes in East Rochester. Best known is Concrest, a community comprised of more than fifty concrete homes, which she designed to be attractive, efficiently built, and affordable. She was inspired by her travels and created the homes to evoke cottages in European villages; she sited them on pastoral, winding streets, curving around a hill, and adjacent to a park. These 20’ X 20’ houses, priced at $4000, provided a path to home ownership for workers, who could pay $40 a month for “a home with a deed, title, porch light, garage, fine view, fireplace, electricity, green grass, French windows….” She used poured concrete to construct the homes as it was fireproof, economical, and durable—she wanted the homes to last one hundred years. In 1921, Concrest was featured in the trade journal Concrete and in 1922, Kate Gleason became the first female member of the American Concrete Institute.