Engineer of the week No.69: Elizabeth Jane Smith (3 October 1889-?)
Today we remember Elizabeth Smith, the first woman to study engineering in a Scottish University.
Elizabeth Smith was the first woman to study engineering in Scotland. Her family background is a bit unclear but her mother may have been a single parent as they lived with her mother’s parents and siblings and there is no mention of a father in the household. Her grandfather was a forester and lived in the Forester’s Cottage in Currie, Midlothian. Elizabeth’s first school was Currie primary, then James Gillespie’s for 4 years from the age of 12, and finally the Broughton Junior Student Centrewhich was a kind of college bridging school to university.At the centre she gained passes in English, Mathematics (Higher), Latin, Dynamics, French, and Italian, sufficient to take her to university. She started her studies at the University of Edinburgh, at age of 20, in the academic year 1909-10, initially on an Arts degree.She then changed course to pursue a Pure Science degree in the Faculty of Science for the following three academic years. As she came from a very humble household, her mother working as a low-paid shop assistant, it is not clear how her education was funded, probably by various scholarships but neither her schools nor the university have any records on this matter.
During her three years in the Faculty of Science, she studied Mathematics, Natural Philosophy, Chemistry, and Practical Chemistry. Following her transfer to Engineering, she studied Additional Mathematics, and Electrical Engineering. She left the university in 1913 without graduating, but the reason is not known.
In 1917 she established a small chemical works in the back streets of northwest London, at 162 Villiers Road, Willesden Green.Initially it was going to be registered as “E.J. Smith and Company Limited”, butthis is deleted and the name British Resorcin Manufacturing Co., Ltd. written into the company registration application. The company’s objects were to be chemical manufacturers, manufacturers of resorcin and its derivatives.The first directors were herself, Miss E. J. Smith, and a Lewis Edward Garratt, who is listed as a gentleman with no occupation so presumably he was at least partly responsible for the £5,000 capital.One of her staff in the company was Claudia E. Markham, chemist, who was also for a while a share holder. Later directors included Charles Whitfield (engineer) and Peter Kerr (chemist). The premises were in a tiny yard and outbuildings accessed through wooden gates in a row of modest terraced houses. The location must always havehad various tenants running small businesses as the terrace seems to have been built this way. Which is a bit worrying as the Resorcin that they were working with is, amongst other uses, an explosive.When mixed with concentrated nitric and sulfuric acids you get trinitro-resorcin (styphnic acid), an explosive.
The company was closed down in 1922 and no more is known about Elizabeth after this date.