Aerospace Engineer and Dancer
Judith Love Cohen was born on August 16, 1933, in Brooklyn New York. By the time she was in fifth grade, her classmates were actually paying her to do their math homework. As time progressed she was often the only woman in math classes. She decided she wanted to be a math teacher. At the age of nineteen she was studying engineering in college and dancing ballet in the Metropolitan Opera Ballet Company in New York.
She was brilliant and received a scholarship to Brooklyn College as a math major. It wasn’t long before she realized that she much preferred engineering. After two years at Brooklyn College she married another engineering student, Bernard Siegel. They moved across the country to California where she found employment as a junior engineer with North American Aviation, had three children and she studied at the University of Southern California (USC) at night. She earned both her BS and MS degrees at USC without ever meeting one other female engineering student. After graduation Cohen maintained her association with the university by serving as an Astronautical Engineering Advisory board member. Twenty years later she graduated from the UCLA Engineering Executive Program.
After her graduation from USC she went on to work at Space Technology Laboratories where she stayed until her retirement in 1990. She worked on the guidance computer for the Minuteman missile and on the Abort-Guidance System in the Apollo Lunar Module.
According to her son, Neil Siegel, engineering professor at USC, “My mother usually considered her work on the Apollo program to be the highlight of her career. When disaster struck the Apollo 13 mission, it was the Abort Guidance System that brought the astronauts home safely. Judy was there when Apolo 13 astronauts paid a “thank you: to the TRW facility in Redondo Beach.”
When Judith was in labor with her last child, Jack, there was an engineering issue that was critical and had to be solved. Of course she stepped right in and solved it. According to her son, Neil, “She actually went to her office on the day that Jack was born. When it was time to go to the hospital, she took with her a computer printout of the problem she was working on. Later that day, she called her boss and told him that she had solved the problem. And…oh, yes, the baby was born too.” That baby, Jack Black, would grow up to become a prolific actor and musician.
When Cohen retired from engineering she began a publishing company, Cascade Press. They published two series of books: “You can be a Woman,” created to encourage young girls to pursue careers in engineering and science. The “Green” series was created to promote positive environmental practices and was designed for young children. Cascade Press has sold more than 100,000 of their children’s books in these series. They also published “The Women of Apollo, by Robyn Friend (her son Neil’s wife), featuring four short biographies of the women who helped put the first man on the moon. Cohen was one of them. “It was really difficult psychologically and emotionally to be better than all the boys in math and science,” she said. “[The books] really would have helped encourage my feeling good about myself, that this was the direction I wanted to go. I didn’t see role models. I didn’t get encouragement other than at home.”
She was president of the L.A. chapter of the Society of Women Engineers. She received the Outstanding Engineer Award from the Institute for the Advancement of Engineering, and a Distinguished Literary Contributions Award from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. She was included in Who’s Who in the West and Who’s Who in American Women. She wrote a monthly column for the Engineer of California Magazine, and wrote a play called, A Passover to Remember, that was produced twice in Los Angeles. She started dancing again - recreational folk dancing, which she continued until the end of her life.