Engineer of the Week No.30 Adelaide Anderson.
Today we remember Factory Inspector Dame Adelaide Mary Anderson, DBE (8th April 1863 - 28th August 1936), on her 156th birthday.
Although not an engineer by training and not the very first of the Lady Factory Inspectors, Dame Adelaide Anderson became one of the best known and had close connections with the Women’s Engineering Society at its outset in the final years of her own career. Although her principal role related to the working conditions, pay, hours etc of women and children, as the safety legislation grew so too did the Lady Factory Inspector’s need to understand the technicalities of the processes she was observing.
Born in Australia to a Scottish family, Adelaide Anderson was educated in London at Queen's College in Harley Street and then at Girton College, Cambridge, where she studied for the Moral Sciences Tripos, graduating in 1887. Her first civil service job was in 1892, as a clerk in the Royal Commission on Labour as a clerk. By 1894 she had become one of theHome Office’s first female factory inspectors and was promoted to be one of His Majesty's Principal Lady Inspector of Factories in 1897, dealing with issues of health and safety, working hours and conditions.
The work of the Lady Inspectors gave a voice to women workers for the first time and they brought such persistence and persuasiveness to their role that many improvements were enforced which had previously been ignored. Male trades unionists, at first as scathing as the male Factory Inspectors, came to realise that the Lady Inspectors achieved more than most of the male ones and started to approach them directly for preference.
Adelaide Anderson and her female colleagues were able to reduce the hazards of the “dangerous trades” not by requesting more legistatory prohibitions but be rigorous enforcement of existing rules. Lead poisoning from paints and glazes in the pottery industries were an early success. As women started to move into the engineering workshops during the first world war, the Lady Inspectors had to learn about machinery, machine guards, engineering processes and practices, so as to be able to argue convincingly with shopfloor foremen tor the safety guards to be in place. By the time of her retirement (and Damehood) Adelaide Anderson and her 70 female colleagues were completely integrated with the male factory inspectors and in many cases in sole charge of entire industrial districts.
After her retirement from the civil service in about 1923, Dame Anderson took her knowledge and commitment to various other countries, including China and Australia as well as writing and lecturing extensively. to edit.