Back when the city was booming, Bismarck brought in its first female engineer.

Linda Smestad says in the late 1970s, construction was in full swing and she took advantage of the opportunity. She began a career that shattered a glass ceiling for women.

“I just needed a job,” Smestad shared when asked about what inspired her to apply for the job.

She was hired right away and just like that, Smestad became the first woman to work on a survey crew with the Capital City’s engineering department.

“You just had to keep up with them. You didn’t have a choice,” she said about the all outdoors job that requires some grit.

“I mean we used to go out in the wintertime when I was a rod person on the survey crew and walk in snow that was 3-4 feet deep to do preliminary surveys. You’d have two people on the rods, you know, each going out 100 feet in each direction, trying to walk through these snowbanks and taking shots. It was quite a trip trying to keep up with some of those guys through that heavy snow and it was cold.”

By 1980, she went from crew member to crew chief.

“I felt really honored to do that, that they trusted me enough to do that,” Smestad said.

She was promoted several times, up to inspector, becoming the first woman in every role along the way. Now 45 years later, she’s retiring.

“I cried…” she said about leaving her job for the last time.

“I miss those guys, but it was time. It’s time for me now and I know that.”

Since Smestad’s departure, there are two women working in engineering and surveying in Bismarck, one is Linda Oster. Before coming to work for the city more than a decade ago, she was introduced as the first female engineer at a private firm.

“I recall a project where a supplier called and asked to talk to the engineer responsible for the project. They transferred the call to me and this young lady said, ‘Oh, I wanted to talk to the person in charge,'” shared the Design and Construction Engineer.

“Well I was that person, and so that was a frustrating aspect when I first started that even my gender didn’t recognize me in this role.”

Oster says the resistance to women being in non-traditional roles is lessening and will only keep improving with more hires.

“Choose a profession not because it’s what women or men typically do, it’s because it will give you joy in life,” she added.

Smestad said once the city hired her, a snowball effect began and more and more women were brought in as engineers.

“Go for it,” she advised other women considering a similar career path.

“It’s a wonderful career. You’ll never regret it and it’s always something new.”

Smestad says her favorite project with the city was helping to design and build railroad crossings downtown. She says enjoying her grandkids and the rest of her family will be her focus from here on out.