Engineer of the Week No. 24 Eily Marguerite Leifchild Smith-Keary MA, ARAeSoc, ARINA (nee Keary) (1892 – 1975)
Eily Keary, Naval Architect, was the first woman to have her paper read to the Institution of Naval Architects, 101 years ago this month.
Keary went to school at Roedean and she was one of the earliest women to study Mechanical Sciences at Newnham College, Cambridge.She was appointed to the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in 1915 by the superintendent, G. S. Baker and engaged in the design of seaplane hulls and floats. Her work led her to be elected an Associate Fellow of the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain (ASGB) on October 23 1917.A contemporary at NPL later credits her with the design of the floats for a Schneider Trophy winning seaplane.
Keary became the first woman to co-author a paper given to the Institution of Naval Architects (Later RINA) in 1918 with Baker, entitled ‘The effect of the longitudinal motion of a ship on its statical transverse stability’. The paper was the first of its kind and citations have been found as late as 1988. 1918 also saw Keary promoted to junior assistant at NPL, a more senior position than might be thought. Three more papers jointly with Baker, all on seaplane design were forthcoming during 1918. One of these added an RAF pilot to the authors and concerned “Experiments with full size machines.”Following a change of rules on 9 April 1919, Keary became one of the first three women admitted as an Associate Member of RINA.
Keary is recorded as being a very practical naval architect who like to test her theories on full size ships as well as models. In 1922 she travelled alone to Canada and back on the Canadian Pacific 14,000 ton ship “Melita” and she is recorded as having made other voyages across the Atlantic over the next six years.1925 saw her giving a paper, as its sole author, on “The Manoeuvring of Ships” to the Liverpool Engineering Society.
Miss Keary, The Sheffield Telegraph reported, took ship in 1927 for a round trip to New York. Her senior at the NPL, Mr J. H. Lent, told the paper that she had gone as a fifth engineer.On her return he visited the ship and spoke to the other engineers who threatened to throw him overboard if he said anything derogatory as she had performed really well.In the same article, Lent credits Keary as having spent holidays working in a shipyard and having passed the City and Guilds examination in Naval Architecture, gaining a Silver Medal for having scored higher than any of the male candidates.
Some reports state that she had left NPL to marry in 1929, but though she married F. E. Smith-Keary in 1930, but it doesn’t seem to have stopped her working. Baker and Keary gave a further paper to RINA in March 1930 on the design and form of towed Thames barges.The following year, as Mrs E. M. Smith-Keary she gave another paper, authored jointly with the staff of NPL, on the effect of immersion on propellers to the North East Coast Institution of Engineers and Ship Builders. In 1932 she authored the appendices to Baker’s report on steering ships in shallow water and canals for The Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. In 1934 she was lead author of a paper on “Full-Scale Steering Experiments on 3 Ships” which Mr. F. Todd, one of her co-authors, read to the Institution of Marine Engineers.
Keary became a full member of RINA in 1938 and remained so until at least 1959.She resigned from ASGB in 1940.Eily died in Liverpool in 1975.
Many thanks for this guest entry by Keith Harcourt, MA, MPhil, independent scholar of transport history.