Damyanti Gupta clearly remembers the first time she heard the word “engineer” as a 13 year old.
“The Prime Minister of India [Jawaharlal Nehru] visited my small city,” Gupta recalled to Time Magazine. “He said, ‘after 200 years of British rule, India has no industry and that we need engineers. I’m not just talking to you boys. I’m also talking to you girls.’ I had found my calling.”
She decided that day that she would one day become an engineer, no matter what it would take. Born in 1942 in a small city in Sindh, Gupta clearly remembered having to flee her home with her parents during Partition. “I remember my mother, Gopibai Hingorani, who had only completed a 4th grade education herself, telling me she was going to make sure I received something that no one could ever take away from me: an education,” Gupta recalled to Time. “Despite the fact that we lived the next decade as refugees, my mother kept her promise.”
Gupta would go on to become the first female student at her engineering college in India, an institution that was so unprepared for her that there was not even a restroom that she could use. (School administrators eventually had one built for her.) Upon graduating, Gupta knew that she wanted to move to the United States and work in the auto industry, specifically for Ford. Gupta singled out the company after reading about the founder as a teenager. She would make the big move to Detroit in 1967.
“My parents gave me their lifetime savings to help me fulfill my dream,” she said. “I arrived in the Motor City, Detroit, Mich., in January of 1967 without snow boots, a warm jacket, or a car.” She would soon become Ford’s first female engineer, but the process was not without its hiccups. As she recalled, Ford’s human relations manager was quite perplexed by her application at first.
Gupta recalled his surprise at her appearance. “‘You’re applying for an engineering job, but we have no females here,’” she remembered him telling her. “I told him, ‘I’m here, and unless you hire me, you’ll never have any.’”
Now retired, Gupta is also the mother of CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta and congressional candidate Suneel Gupta.
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