Yvonne Y. Clark

NASHVILLE, TN — The family of Professor Y. Y. Clark, P.E. is saddened to announce the death of the distinguished pioneer for African-American and women engineers. Clark passed away peacefully in her sleep on Sunday at the age of 89 at her Nashville residence.  She was the first woman to receive a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering at Howard University, the first woman to serve as a faculty member in the College of Engineering and Technology at Tennessee State University (TSU), and the first woman to earn a Master’s Degree in Engineering Management from Vanderbilt University.  A year following her college graduation from Howard University in 1951, Y.Y. as she was known professionally, integrated the Society of Women Engineers, which boasts more than 37,000 members throughout the United States.  

Affectionately called “TSU’s First Lady of Engineering”, Clark taught Mechanical Engineering for 55 years in the College of Engineering and Technology at Tennessee State University, where she also served as Mechanical Engineering Department Head twice. At TSU she acted as Freshman Advisor for all incoming students to the College of Engineering. The current Dean of the Engineering School, Dr. S. Keith Hargrove, was one of Clark’s former students.

In 1947, Clark was awarded a full scholarship to the University of Louisville in Louisville, KY.  When it was discovered she was African American, the school rescinded the scholarship due to its segregation policy. Following a threat of a lawsuit by the Young family, the University of Louisville paid for Clark to attend HBCU Howard University in Washington, D.C., where she earned top honors. She was the only woman in her graduation class of 300 engineering students to earn a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering.  Due to the sexism of the day, Clark was not allowed to march with her male classmates and therefore received her diploma in the office of the university president.  

After receiving numerous job rejections due to her gender, Clark worked at Frankford Arsenal Gauge Labs, in Philadelphia, before moving to the Electronic Tube Division at 25 years of age for the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) in Montclair, New Jersey, where she designed electrical equipment with 18 other male colleagues. Following her 1955 marriage to William F. “Bill” Clark, Jr., Clark returned to the South and visited the Ford Glass Plant in search of a job. After being told, “We have no use for you,” she asked TSU if they needed an engineering professor and became the first woman to serve on the faculty of the College of Engineering and Technology at Tennessee State University.  

In the 1960’s, when TSU was not a year round university, Clark would return to work with the government during the summers. During these summers she worked as an Aerospace Engineer (Flight-General) at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama investigating the Saturn 5 Rocket Booster engines hot spot issues. Clark also worked at the NASA Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, TX on the moon rock samples container for transporting moon rocks back to Earth.

In 1970, Clark became the first African-American woman to receive a Master’s Degree in Engineering Management at Vanderbilt University. She returned to the Ford Glass Plant for the second time where she was hired as the first woman engineer at the plant and joined the design team to rebuild the float glass furnace. After completing her work at Ford Glass Plant she returned to TSU and continued her teaching until her retirement in 2011.  After retirement, Clark was granted “Professor Emeritus” status by the College of Engineering. 

Georgianna Yvonne Young Clark was born on April 13, 1929 in Houston, Texas to Dr. Milton Young, Jr., M.D. a general practitioner and surgeon and Hortense Houston Young, a library scientist and journalist. 

Clark was preceded in death by her beloved husband of 39 years Bill Clark. She is survived by her brother Dr. C. Milton Young, III, M.D. and his wife Waltraud of Louisville, KY. Her children Milton Hebert Clark, Sr., daughter Carol Yvonne Lawson, son-in-law Eric Lawson, and grandchildren Paris Nicole Lawson and Milton Hebert Clark, Jr.

Viewing will be held on Friday, Feb. 1 from 9 am-noon with a family visitation from noon-2 pm at New Generation Funeral Home, 2930 Murfreesboro Pike, Antioch. Prior to the Celebration of Her Life Service at 6 pm Feb. 1 at Mount Gilead Missionary Baptist Church, 901 Acklen Ave. Nashville, another family visitation will be held from 4-5 pm. The Links, Inc. Service will start at 5 pm, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Omega-Omega Service begins at 5:30 pm. Interment will be at noon at Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Y.Y. Clark Annual Engineering  Scholarship Fund via a check sent to Darlene G. Harris-Vasser Assistant Director of Donor Relations, TSU Foundation, 3500 John Merritt, Box 9542, Nashville, TN  37209. Phone Number: (615) 963-9764 Ext. 5794.