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Students of the Polytechnic Academy of Porto

Rita de Moraes Sarmento

Fotografia de Rita de Moraes Sarmento / Photo of Rita de Moraes Sarmento Rita de Moraes Sarmento
The 1st portuguese engineer

Rita de Moraes Sarmento was the youngest of the Moraes Sarmento sisters, the fourth daughter of Anselmo Evaristo de Moraes Sarmento, a tradesman from Aveiro, and of D. Rita de Cássia de Oliveira Moraes, who was born in Porto. The family lived in Rua do Bonjardim in Porto where Rita was born in the morning of the 11th February 1872. When she was around two months old she was baptized in the Parish Church of Santo Ildefonso and her godparents were Duarte Mendes Corrêa da Rocha, a legal clerk in Coimbra, and an aunt, D. Firmina Augusta de Moraes e Costa.

Rita spent her childhood and youth in Porto. Besides one brother, she had three sisters older than her: Laurinda, Aurélia and Guilhermina. While her mother was occupied educating their five children, her father worked as a tradesman at a printing company "Imprensa Portuguesa" and as a journalist, editing the periodicals "Gazeta Literária do Porto" and "A Actualidade", and later "A Ideia Nova – diário democrático".

Fotografia das irmãs Moraes Sarmento com o pai Anselmo Evaristo de Moraes Sarmento / Photo of the sisters Moraes Sarmento with the father Anselmo Evaristo de Moraes SarmentoRita’s moral and ethical upbringing was strongly influenced by her father’s open-mindedness, a quality that stemmed from being a descendant of the Moraes de Aveiro, a family persecuted during the absolutist reign of D. Miguel. The family’s influence has also contributed to stress the importance of education as grounds for personal and social promotion.

In addition to the liberal values held by the family, Rita was likewise influenced by those who engaged her father for professional reasons or as friends. Among these were such celebrated individuals as Oliveira Martins, Ramalho Ortigão, Camilo Castelo Branco, Antero de Quental and Teófilo Braga. The house of the Moraes Sarmento was a privileged place for the circulation of liberal principles and the ideas of the time, when the establishment of a democratic culture and mentality was a key concern for the country.

Alongside this atmosphere, the fact that the five brothers and sisters got their diplomas in higher education is also an important fact. Both Rita and her sisters got their diplomas in Porto before the turn of the 19th century.

During the academic year of 1887-1888, when Rita was 15 years old, she enrolled in Polytechnic Academy of Porto together with her sister Guilhermina. Her choice differed from her sisters’, who attended the preparatory courses of the Polytechnic Academy to enrol later in Medical-Surgical School of Porto.

The curriculum comprehended such subjects as Analytic Geometry, Human Figure, Landscape and Ornate Drawing and General Inorganic Chemistry. These subjects formed the curriculum of the 1st year of the course for Civil Engineers of Public Works. Rita finished that year concluding every subject and earning a distinction in Inorganic Chemistry. In the following year, still with her sister, she attended the subjects Differential and Integral Calculus, General Physics and Architecture and Watery Drawings. Rita’s result in the latter earned her a distinction. In the year of 1889-1890 the two sisters’ academic path split as Guilhermina enrolled in Medical-Surgical School of Porto.

During 1890-1891 and 1891-1892, Rita de Moraes Sarmento was the only woman among the students in the Polytechnic Academy. The following year she had a female colleague, but during the 5th year of the course she was the only woman again among only three registered students. In the 6th and last year of the course she was colleague of Victor Machado and Luís Couto dos Santos who would become a professor in the Technical Faculty and, after 1926, in the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Porto. Her last exam was in Construction and Communication Routes, a 2nd year subject, on the 30th June 1894. Thus, she concluded the course of Public Works, achieving a 12.5 mark (an average comprising the 12.18 mark on the preparatory course where she was the best out of three senior students and the 12.88 mark obtained on her special course).

Unprecedented at a national level, this graduation was not ignored in the periodical press. Rita de Moraes Sarmento was the first woman to get a diploma in Civil Engineering in Portugal.

Fotografia de Rita de Morais Sarmento / Photo of Rita de Morais SarmentoAlthough ready to apply for the "Certificate of Capability" to practise her profession as a civil engineer, Rita only did so when she was 24, receiving it on the 30th July 1896. Two years later, on the 25th September 1898, she got married in the Church of Cedofeita, in Porto, to António dos Santos Lucas, a PhD in Mathematics by the University of Coimbra and an Engineering Lieutenant. In 1900, the couple settled in Lisbon, after António dos Santos Lucas was invited to teach at the Polytechnic School. Rita lived in Lisbon until her death, on the 28th March 1931, encouraging her husband in his long professional career. Besides being a professor and Director of the Faculty of Science of the University of Lisbon for a short period, he was also Minister of Finance (1914).

Attending Rita’s funeral were representatives of the Ministry of Public Education and of the University of Lisbon. She was buried in the Moraes Sarmento family tomb.

It would take a few more years for the academic path of Rita Moraes Sarmento to be followed by another Portuguese woman. Virgínia Moura became the first woman with a degree by the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Porto.
(Universidade Digital / Gestão de Informação, 2011)

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