Edith Clarke was born February 10, 1883, in Howard County, Maryland to John Ridgely Clarke and Susan Dorsey Owings, one of nine children. After being orphaned at age 12, she was raised by her older sister. She used her inheritance to study mathematics and astronomy at Vassar College, where she graduated in 1908.
Her background in mathematics helped her achieve fame in her field. On February 8, 1926, as the first woman to deliver a paper at the American Institute of Electrical Engineers' annual meeting, she showed the use of hyperbolic functions for calculating the maximum power that a line could carry without instability. Two of her later papers won awards from the AIEE: the Best Regional Paper Prize in 1932 and the Best National Paper Prize in 1941.
In 1943, Edith Clarke wrote an influential textbook in the field of power engineering, Circuit Analysis of A-C Power Systems, based on her notes for lectures to GE Engineers.
In 1947, she joined the faculty of the Electrical Engineering Department at the University of Texas at Austin, making her the first female professor of Electrical Engineering in the country. She taught for ten years and retired in 1957.
After college, Clarke taught mathematics and physics at a private school in San Francisco and at Marshall College. She then spent some time studying civil engineering at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, but left to become a "computer" at AT&T in 1912. She computed for George Campbell, who applied mathematical methods to the problems of long-distance electrical transmissions. While at AT&T, she studied electrical engineering at Columbia University by night.
In 2015, Clarke was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.