Engineer of the Week No.67: Elsie Eleanor Verity, FIMT/FIMI (14th August 1894 - April 1971)
Today we remember “The First Lady of the motor trade”, Miss Elsie Eleanor Verity of Manchester.
Elsie Verity, to become famed as “The First Lady of the motor trade”, was born in Barton upon Irwell, Lancashire, in 1894, to William and Lilly Verity, but lived almost her entire life in Manchester. Her father’s family had been in the metal trades for generations and he started out as a whitesmith, then a fitter and finally set up in his own business building bicycles and then running a motor garage. Her education was at Manchester’s Central High School and entered her father’s cycle-making and motor garage business at the age of 16. In this she was the beneficiary of a father who was happy to teach her all about his engineering skills and taught her to drive when she was only 13 years old, and a mere year later she was actually teaching others to drive.
Initially she was the firm’s bookkeeper and typist, but she took courses at the Manchester College of Technology and Manchester High School of Commerce and gained a good deal of automobile engineering knowledge because when the First World War broke out she became a driving instructor for the armed forces and also for the Ministry of Pensions’ driving scheme for shell-shocked service men. She commented later that, even at the young age of 16, wartime pressures sometimes meant she was teaching girls even younger than herself how to drive.
After the war she became the assistant manager of Verity’s University Garage (it was very near Manchester University) and when her father died in 1925 she took over the business completely and ran it for the rest of her working life, becoming its sole proprietor. In 1927 she joined the Institute of the Motor Trade, later the Institute of the Motor Industry and was active in the organisation for many years, generally as the sole female at events. In 1930 many newspapers reported that she had been awarded the Institute of Motor Trades Wakefield Gold Medal, presented by Lord Wakefield himself, for the best paper any motoring subject. The first woman to ever win this award, the subject of her paper was " What are the benefits of price maintenance? ".She considered herself a motor engineer and both undertook some of the practical garage work herself as well as supervising “Her boys” and the general running of the business.
When the Second World War came she was again called upon to assist with driver training for hundreds of women and men for the armed forces and emergency services. Her garage had a lecture room too, for teaching mechanical and repair theory. She also joined the local Civil Defence as well as speaking at the Manchester Gas Showrooms War-fare cookery demonstration sessions. In 1949 the Institute of the Motor Trade made her their first female Fellow. The garage business ended abruptly when the local council compulsorily purchased the site for development, but continued to be involved inthe Motor Agents’ Association into her old age, with one young member recalling his first MAA meeting: “I wondered why there was this old woman in the front row. Ten minutes later she got up and dominated the meeting!”
Elsie was very active in the Manchester Soroptimists’ women’s group, becoming their vice-chairwoman in 1931, which was by no means a sedate activity as she was reported in the local press as captaining the Manchester branch’s tug-of-war team against Soroptimists from Liverpool!In 1939 she also joined the Women’s Engineering Society and was soon active in the Society, giving talks about her work and chairing the Manchester branch. In 1947-8 she became Vice-President of the Society but ‘for private reasons’ did not follow the usually automatic process to become its President although she remained on the council and was press secretary for a while. In private life she lived with her cousin Emily Verity (“Em) and they enjoyed sports and outdoor activities such as camping holidays. Elsie died in 1971 and, uniquely for its obituaries, The Woman Engineer included tributes from industry colleagues and friends as well as Society members.