It isn’t often that science and engineering is the background of a love story. Then again, Emily Roebling was a remarkable woman. Emily Warren Roebling was the wife of Washington Roebling, who was Chief Engineer during the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. Her poor husband developed decompression sickness while working on the bridge. Emily took it upon herself to learn bridge construction, and then took over much of the chief engineer’s duties, including day-to-day supervision and project management, and liaising with the men doing the construction, while she fought for her husband to retain his position as chief engineer (the Brooklyn Bridge has been his father’s project to begin with). At the same time, she was her husband’s nurse – he was to suffer from the effects of decompression sickness for the rest of his life, remaining partially paralysed. It was only due to her intelligence and determination that the project was finished. After the bridge was completed, she travelled broadly and went on to complete a law degree at university. Sadly, her husband was to outlive her by over two decades; I’ll bet he missed his dearest Emily’s ministrations.
What I take from this story is that Emily and Washington were a team. When Washington’s health faltered, Emily was well able to step up to care for him and for his beloved building project. Real love is putting your beloved’s happiness before your own … and Emily certainly made that sacrifice. But I like to think that she found joy and satisfaction in the challenge of being the chief engineer in everything but name. I would love to write a such a married couple into my Steampunk novel. The Roeblings both needed to be extraordinary and unconventional Victorians.