Engineer of the Week No.93: Doris Mona Whiteside Hirst (Mrs Fairthorne) MA, AFRAeS (13th October 1903 – 16th February 1988)
On her 116th birthday we remember aeronautical engineer, Mona Hirst.
Mona Hirst was another one of the early female engineers who started out as a mathematician. From the modest background of a father who was a primary school teacher in Birmingham, she graduated from the University of Birmingham in 1924 with a Class 1 BA in mathematics. In 1925 she gained an MA in mathematics for her thesis on Asymptotic Expansions.
Her next job was as a lecturer in mathematics at Queens University Belfast (QEB) where she worked from 1926-30, and co-authored a paper in 1928, in The London, Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science, on parallel-plate condensers. 1928 was apparently a ‘peak year’ for women’s papers in this physics journal until after the war, with QEB being exceptionally well-represented by women’s papers.
She worked for a while as a Technical Assistant in the Aeronautical Department of Boulton & Paul Ltd, in Norwich, although it is not clear exactly when. The company was closely linked to the Royal Aircraft Establishment Farnborough (RAE) and the Royal Airship Factory Cardington for which they made all the R101’s structural metalwork in 1929, at the time when Hilda Lyon was doing the structural calculations for its transverse framing.
She got a job at the RAE as a Junior Scientific Officer, probably in 1930, as in 1933 she wrote an article about wind tunnel work there, in The Woman Engineer. Unfortunately it is a general article and gives no indication of her own work there. In the same year she married RAE colleague Robert Fairthorne. It is not known if she resigned from her job on marriage, as would have been normal, or if she continued until her son was born in 1941, but she and her husband travelled to mathematics conferences at least until 1936. Mona died in 1988, still living in their house in Farnborough named Kirkmichael after the town of her birth in the Isle of Man.