Engineer of the Week No.56: Elizabeth Helen MacLeod Georgeson (July 1895-?)
In the month of her 124th birthday, we remember Elizabeth Georgeson, Scotland’s first female engineering graduate.
Elizabeth Helen MacLeod Georgeson is believed to have been the first female engineering graduate from any Scottish university. Born in the West End of Glasgow where her father, Frederick Hugh Georgeson, was a Minister of the United Free Church, the family later moved to Edinburgh where she had her secondary education at Canaan Park College.
She started studying engineering at the University of Edinburgh in 1916 when she was 21, at the height of World War 1, when many women of all social classes were taking on new roles, often in engineering fields previously barred to them. Elizabeth studied chemistry, maths, introductory engineering and natural philosophy (1st year); technical maths II, junior engineering labs and junior engineering drawing (2nd year); and heat engineering, junior engineering fieldwork, applied maths, senior engineering labs, senior engineering fieldwork, geology and senior engineering drawing (final year). She graduated with BSc in engineering in July 1919 and also gained a 1st class certificate of merit in mechanical engineering and 2nd class certificates in junior engineering labs and engineering fieldwork. On graduating she became an articled pupil to a surveyor, with a view to qualifying as a Civil Engineer. The only image we have of her is from a 1934 group photo of the Edinburgh Mathematical Society, so she was presumably a member. She was also a member of the Women’s Engineering Society in 1920, the year after its formation, when they published her article on “The magic of mathematics”.
She worked for the Safety in Mines Research Laboratory in Sheffield, from which she co-authored 7 papers based on her research work done there between 1926-42.Her first publication was in 1925, about the properties of cement particles, but the majority of her papers were on the properties and behaviour of gases in mines. In 1942 she won the only senior scholarship that year from the Sir James Caird's Travelling Scholarships Trust, giving her £280 to travel to study aeronautical engineering. Presumably she could only have travelled within the UK, given the war situation.
She also wrote poetry and her poem, Flotsam, a contemplation on old age, was published in 1952 in a selection of short poems from the Festival of Britain.