Engineer of the Week No.96: Isabel Helen Hardwich (nee Cox), MA, CEng., MIEE1, MIOP, HonMWES (19th September 1919 – February 1987)
Today we remember Isabel Cox, photometry expert and electrical engineer and WES activist.
Isabel Cox, known to members of the Women’s Engineering Society by her married name of Hardwich, was born into modest circumstances in South London in 1919. She was educated at local council schools and then went to Newnham College, Cambridge where she gained a degree in physics. In 1941 she was one of the first batch of graduates to join Metropolitan Vickers’ ‘College apprenticeship’ schme in Manchester. This scheme was novel at the time, not only for taking women as well as men on an engineering apprenticeship but for its mix of practical work and explicit training for the graduates to become the firm’s future leaders. This included formal dinners for the apprentices, no doubt reported in The Rotor magazine which Isabel edited. Her first job after completing her apprenticeship was in their electron microscope division, then moved to the photometry laboratory. In 1945 she married colleague John Norman Hardwich, who was a man ahead of his time in his unswerving support for his wife’s work, even to the extent of joining WES and being involved in some committees. This enabled her to remain at work after they married at a time when this was still rare. In 1947 she joined the Illumination Engineering Society where she started her lifelong interest in educating the next generations of engineers. Metropolitan Vickers expected its staff to do external teaching, which Isabel did in various schools and colleges. In the 1950s Isabel set up a Hilger large UV spectrometer before she turned to X-ray crystallography and designed an X-ray Geieger counter spectrometer. She remained with MV, later AEI, responsible for the recruitment, training and general overseeing of their women engineers. She left AEI when it was taken over by GEC in 1969 and became Chief Clerk to the Open University in Manchester until she retired ten years later.
Isabel joined the Society in 1941, became President in 1961-62 and was then very involved in setting up the International Conference of Women Engineers and Scientists (ICWES) as well as numerous other activities relating to encouraging young women to become engineers. She was made an Honorary Member of WES and after her death, her husband returned the complement by gifting the Society the beautiful silver WES badge to be the Isabel Hardwich Award, now our highest award, given for outstanding service to WES.