Engineer of the Week No.72: Caroline Harriet Haslett DBE, JP, Companion IEE (17 August 1895 – 4 January 1957)
Today on her 124th birthday we remember Caroline Haslett, engineer, founding Secretary and President of the Women’s Engineering Society.
Dame Caroline Haslett was arguably the woman who had the most impact on the founding and continued success of the Women’s Engineering Society. Born in Sussex in 1895, her father Robert Haslett was a railway fitter. This perhaps explains why, on leaving school and getting a very junior clerical job with the Cochran Boiler Company in Annan, Scotland, she was so dissatisfied with the job that she asked if she could move to the shopfloor and learn the technical side.
In 1918, she answered an advertisement for a ‘Lady with some experience in engineering works as organizing secretary for a women's engineering society.’This was the Women’s Engineering Society, and she would go on to be the guiding influence of the Society, editing the Journal and becoming President in 1941. She also co-founded the Electrical Association for Women, an organisation formed to reduce the drudgery of women’s everyday lives by encouraging the use of electricity in the home. She edited its journal, the Electrical Age, for 30 years and the 6 editions of Electrical Handbook for Women. When she retired from the EAW the association had 14,000 members, most of them housewives, domestic science teachers, and educationists, organized in 160 branches. It flourished into the 1980s and many women remember their mothers attending its courses, evidenced by one of the distinctive explanatory tea towels.
Haslett was very much the voice for women in engineering in the UK and worldwide, advised the Government on planning in the Second World War, and was the only woman member of the Council of the British Institute of Management. In 1953-1954 she became the first female Chairman of the British Electrical Development Association, was the only woman member of the British Electricity Authority from 1947-1956 – leading to them naming one of their collier ships after her. Haslett was also the first Chairman of the British Federation of Business and Professional Women and the first British President of the International Federation. She served on numerous advisory bodies and wrote extensively.
In recognition of her work, Caroline Haslett was awarded a CBE in 1932 and a DBE in 1947. A primary school Milton Keynes and street in Crawley are named after her and there is also a blue plaque there/In her final years she lived with her widowed sister who was also active on the political side of electricity supply, and who wrote Caroline’s biography. She died in 1957.