How Women Have Impacted the Plumbing Industry
When most people call a plumber, they usually don’t expect a woman with overalls and a toolbox to show up at their door. After all, the plumbing industry has been male-dominated for nearly as long as it’s existed. But as more women enter the plumbing trade and have a lasting impact on their communities, it’s good to look back at the pioneering women who have shaped the industry, broken down barriers, and paved the way for the female plumbers of today.
Lillian Ann Baumbach Makes History
Growing up in Virginia, Lillian Ann Baumbach preferred to play with wrenches instead of dolls. Her father owned a successful plumbing and heating business, and by the age of 12, she was accompanying him as a helper on several jobs.
In 1951, at the age of 21, Baumbach became the first woman in America to receive her Master Plumber license. She took the certification exam with half a dozen men and was one of the only three who passed. She worked as a technician for her father before eventually becoming the company treasurer.
The National Association of Plumbers’ Ladies Auxiliary Committee Is Formed
Around the year 1892, the National Association of Master Plumbers (now known as the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association) formed the Ladies Auxiliary Committee. This committee initially consisted of all males and was tasked primarily with organizing activities for the wives of NAMP members during their annual conventions. By 1919, however, the committee was run exclusively by women.
Over the subsequent years and decades, the Ladies Auxiliary Committee would become a highly influential force for women’s rights activism and profound changes in the plumbing world itself. To name a few of their accomplishments, they:
- Successfully lobbied to improve or install washroom facilities in gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants.
- Raised awareness and influenced legislation for improved sanitation and trade practices.
- Established loan funds for educating and supporting the daughters of master plumbers
Women In the Plumbing World Today
While women make up only about 3% of plumbing contractors today, there is a growing call for women in the plumbing industry. The high demand for skilled tradespeople has eliminated gender bias to a large degree, and the attractive salary for a licensed plumber has drawn more women to the field. Organizations like the PHCC Association continue to offer apprenticeships and scholarships to help women excel in the plumbing trade.
The number of plumbing businesses owned or managed by women has also increased significantly in recent years. One modern pioneer, Adrienne Bennett, became the first African American woman to earn a Master Plumber license in 1987. Today, she is the owner and CEO of a rapidly-growing commercial plumbing and water conservation business in Detroit. Like the women of the 20th century before her, Bennett’s achievements are already cutting a path for future generations of female plumbers and business owners.
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