The First Black Female Master Plumber Has A Story Worth Retelling
February is Black History Month, and many stories are worth discussing. In the plumbing industry, black history is being written right now through the work of Adrienne Bennet, a master plumber and business owner in Detroit, MI. In the mid-1970s, Bennett started a journey to make her the first African American female master plumber in North America.
Beginnings: The Recruitment of Adrienne Bennett
Adrienne Bennett was raised in 1960s Detroit and studied metallurgy and engineering when she was recruited for an apprenticeship program trying to give minority women opportunities in trades. She decided to join up. She dealt with many challenges in those early years, including:
- Being left alone to plumb a bathroom on the second floor of a building with no instruction. The others were amazed to find her there when they returned.
- Falling 30 ft due to the neglect of another apprentice and suffering a back injury that put her in a brace for a year.
- Constant harassment, both physical and verbal from her male colleagues, attempting to scare her off the job. She began wearing a heavy tool belt to keep coworkers' hands off her.
Adrienne Bennett is tougher than an iron pipe and stuck it out to complete the program. She worked to make herself physically stronger so she could do the job as well, if not better, than her male counterparts.
Climbing the Ladder: From Journeyman Plumber to Master Plumber
After completing her apprenticeship program, Bennett worked several jobs within her home city of Detroit. She logged her 4,000 hours and passed the exam to become a licensed master plumber. Some of the projects and jobs she seems most proud of include the ones in the list below:
- City of Detroit: Bennett worked as a project manager, a plumbing inspector, and a code enforcement officer with the city for a decade.
- Henry Ford Health System: She was working as a plumbing inspector for the system when the hospital needed a master plumber to manage the building and expansion project. Bennett became that master plumber and senior project manager. It was an $80M, three-year project.
- Independent Plumbing Contractor: Since 2008. Adrienne Bennett has run her own business with her son.
The Final Plateau: Business Ownership
She has called owning her own business the final frontier for her. She had reached as high as she could climb working for others and now chooses to pursue her projects with the help of her son, A. K. She focuses much of her work on water conservation and commercial plumbing. She has helped at least one Detroit high-rise cut its water bill by half and is working steadily to help residential customers replace outdated pipes and fixtures.
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