Engineer of the Week No.102: Ilse ter Meer (nee Knott), Dipl. Ing., (14 October 1899 – 3 November 1996)
On the 23rd anniversary of her death we remember the work of mechanical engineer, Ilse ter Meer.
Ilse ter Meer was born in Hanover into an engineering family: her father Gustav was an engineer and director of Hanomag, designing waste water centrifuges. She studied mechanical engineering at the Technical University in Hanover (1919-1922), and then at the Technical University in Munich (1922-24), with another pioneer female engineer Wilhelmine Vogler, in the face of overt hostility from the male students. On graduating she married engineer Carl Knott. She set up her own consultancy in Aachen and worked on her father’s patented centrifuges (Schlammtrocknungs GMBH). In 1925 she became the first woman member of Verein Deutscher Ingenieure (VDI). She worked for various factories in Hanover and Dresden and in the Danzig shipyards and later worked for Siemens & Halske in Berlin. In 1929 became the Women’s Engineersing Society’s (WES) first German member. On the occasion of the World Power Conference in 1930 in Berlin, she organized the first meeting of German female engineers.
However, her negative aspects cannot be ignored: she continued to work at Siemens & Halske through the Nazi era. This company was heavily involved in armaments production during the Second World War, including the use of forced/slave labour and inmates of the women's concentration camp Ravensbrück.
After the war she resumed contact and active membership of WES and, in 1960, she was one of the six founders of the VDI committee for its women members – in 1975 she was awarded the VDI gold medal for her 50 years’ of membership. From 1956 she headed the office of the general agency of an American electrical appliance manufacturer. Despite her wartime association with the Nazis, she has been honoured with a street in Hanover: Ilse ter-Meer-Weg, and an auditorium at TU Munich is named after her. Leibniz University also awards an Ilse ter Meer book prize (Euros 5,000) for a book which promotes equal opportunities, family friendliness or diversity.