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.
Engineer of the Week No.66: Dorothy Lilian Pile FRSA, MISI, HonFISMe, HonFSLAET, HonMIM, FIMF, HonFIMet. (26th July 1902 - 1st February 1993)
On her 117th birthday we remember metallurgical engineer, Dorothy Pile.
Born in 1902 in Yorkshire, her father was a noted metallurgist, and Dorothy followed him into this field. She does not seem to have had any post-school education but went straight to work at the Midland Laboratory Guild at the age of 18 as a laboratory assistant and presumably learned on the job.The guild was established in 1918 as a co-operative organization providing testing services for several independent firms making non-ferrous products. She progressed there to become a technical assistant working with the scientist in charge, Mr R. Johnston. When he died in 1944 she became the Assistant Secretary of the Sheet Metal Industries Association. Throughout this time she had gradually become well known in metallurgy due to her research interests in the finishing of fine metalwork and jewelry and research on strain, corrosion cracking and surface defects. This led to her becoming an Associate of the new Institution of Metallurgy in 1947 and in 1949 she was elected at the Birmingham Metallurgical Society’s first female president. She was awarded fellowships in a number of metals institutions and returned the compliment in many cases by donated trophies in her name, for student competitions in the trade. In 1950, Dorothy was the only woman member at the Iron and Steel Institute’s annual dinner and therefore allowed to bring a female guest, which none of the male members were permitted - she brought Dorothy Cridland. In 1948 she moved again, to become the Industrial liaison officer with the Design and Research Centre of the Gold, Silver and jewelry trade, London. In 1983 she became the first female Honorary fellow of the Institution of Metallurgists and was presented with an inscribed silver dish. In 1966 she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and took an active role, contributing to discussions about involving younger people in the society.
Having been involved in the Women’s Engineering Society since the 1940s, she became President in 1954 and donated our beautiful President’s Badge in 1964. She was freeman of the City of London and a member of the Goldsmith’s Company, and died in 1993, whilst living in the Goldsmiths’ Company’s almshouses in East Acton.
Engineer of the Week No. 65: Ruth Pirret BSc, MIM (24th July 1874-19th June 1939)
On her 145th birthday we remember metallurgist and corrosion specialist, Scotswoman Ruth Pirret.
Ruth Pirret was the first woman to graduate with a BSc in pure science from the University of Glasgow, in 1898, having been amongst the first women to be allowed to enter the university. Although her work was principally in chemistry, she can be considered to be included amongst the early women working in engineering due to her important contribution to the understanding of corrosion in marine boilers.
Ruth was born in Kelvinside, Glasgow’s prosperous West End, while her father was minister at the United Free Church in Garnethill. The penultimate child in a large family, there must nevertheless have been sufficient resources to ensure most of them got excellent educations, since two of her older sisters set up their own nursery school and her younger sister, Mary, became a medical doctor, in addition to Ruth’s own university education. Having won various prizes and taken honours courses in Mathematics, Chemistry and Physiology, Ruth’s degree initially took her into teaching, then one of the few paid careers open to female graduates. In 1900-01 she was science mistress at Greenock High School and she is then thought to have taught in various other schools, possibly in Kilmacolm, Newcastle and Arbroath, before returning to the University of Glasgow in 1909 to undertake postgraduate research with Frederick Soddy. Soddy’s previous research assistant had been Winifred Moller Beilby, but she retired after their marriage in 1908 and Ruth Pirret took her place as his assistant. Their work was developing the disintegration theory of radioactivity and was published in two co-authored papers (in 1910 and 1911) on “The ratio between uranium and radium in minerals, which led to Soddy becoming an FRS and a professorship at the University of Aberdeen in 1914.During the First World War she became a Vice-Warden of Ashburne House Hall, a residence for female students in Manchester, where students remembered her for the morale-boosting activities she set up there.
Engineer of the Week No.64: Rosina “Rose” Winslade OBE (22nd July 1919 - 16th December 1982) MIMC, MASEE, FITE, AMBIM, MSIT
Today, on the centenary of her birth, we remember Rose Winslade, accoustic and electronics engineer and technical educator.
Rosina Winslade was another woman who became a highly respected professional engineer (and President of the Women’s Engineering Society) despite having had almost no formal education. Born in London in 1919 into a working class family, her father having various labouring jobs, she had to leave school at the age of 14 to work in a factory. Her own interest, and presumably demonstrable intelligence, led to her being moved to be a junior assistant in the laboratories. She started to take City and Guilds courses in Telecommunications Technology but was not able to finish due to a serious illness for 2 years. However by 1939 she was sufficiently knowledgeable and experienced to get a job with the Plessey Company working on development and production liaison on airborne equipment and direction finders. In 1947 she moved to become an engineer in the accoustics laboratory of Goodmans Industries Ltd, a company specialising in audio equipment, then (1950) joining Phillips Electrical Ltd as a sales engineer on electromechanical devices and instrumentation. That division became a separate company, Research and Control Instruments Ltd, with whom she worked until 1967, rising to become Manager (Technical) of their Electronics Division, mainly working on automation schemes. In 1967 she took a change of direction into technical education, which was to be a principal interest for the rest of her life, by become the Assistant Secretary of the Council of Engineering Institutions. This led to involvement in overseas educational organisations, in Europe and the Commonwealth and an appointment to the board of governors of University College Nairobi. She retired in 1977.
Rosina was involved in many professional bodies, often becoming one of their first female members. She was an early member of Society of Environmental Engineers, perhaps due to her interest in vibration measurement, on which she published papers in the 1950s. Rosina was active in the Women’s Engineering Society from her joining in 1947 until just before her death. She gave talks, wrote articles, was on the council and became the Society’s President in 1966-67. In the Society’s 50th anniversary year, 1969, she was awarded the OBE for her services to the society, which continued until just before her death in 1982.
Engineer of the Week No.63: Eleanor Lettice Curtis (1 February 1915-21 July 2014)
On the 5th anniversary of her death, we remember Lettice Curtis, pioneering commercial pilot and aeronautical engineer.
Lettice Curtis was almost unique in being a pre-WW2 pilot who served through WW2 in the Air Transport Auxiliary and then carved out a full post-war career in the technical side of flying. Eleanor Lettice Curtis was born in Devon into a prosperous and well-connected family, her father W S Curtis being a barrister. She was educated at the very exclusive Benenden School for Girls and then read mathematics at St Hilda’s College, Oxford.
In 1937 she gained her private pilot’s A certificate, at Yapton Flying Club, Ford, near Chichester, and a year later got the commercial pilot’s B licence, which enabled her to get her first flying job with C.L. Air Services in Eastleigh. Charles Lloyd was under contract to the Ordnance Survey, to take aerial photographs for mapping.In 1939 she went to work for the Ordnance Survey’s research department, drawing maps from aerial photographs and the following year joined her many flying friends in the Air Transport Auxiliary, initially at its Hamble base. During her war service, Lettice became the first female to fly the heavy four-engine bombers, including Halifaxes, Lancasters and the the US B-17 Flying Fortress. She had flown 400 of them by the close of the war.
Engineer of the Week No.62: Diana Joan Lavender MBE, CEng, MIMechE (21st July 1928- 13th March 2008)
Today, on what would have been her 91st birthday, we remember Joan Lavender, defence electronics engineer and CAD pioneer.
Joan Lavender was one of a generation of women engineers who managed to benefit from the post-WW2 demand for technical talent as the Cold War heated up. Born in 1928 into humble circumstances in Wolverhampton she seems to have been raised by her mother and grandparents. Her time at St Jude’s, the local primary school, revealed her as very bright and she won a scholarship to go to Wolverhampton Girls High School during the war years. She left school at 16 with credits in her school certificate exams and went to the local technical college to study to become a draughtswoman and engineer, coming out top in her year which gained her the student of the year award. In 1944 she started a 3-year apprenticeship at Waddington Tools Ltd. She then got her first job, as a jig and tool draughtswoman at Villiers Engineering Co Ltd1, Wolverhampton which she combined with more college studies, leading her to 2 years toolroom training experienceon special purpose machines. In 1948 she moved south to work for De Havillands (later became Hawker Siddeley and then British Aerospace), and also joined theInstitution of Mechanical Engineers, rising in its grades until she became a chartered engineer in 1956. As her work was in the defence industry, it was all top secret and it is difficult to know exactly what she worked on but we do know that her IMechE application showed that her specialisation then was production methods using early versions of programmable machine tools and she rose to become British Aerospace’s Computer Aided Design and Manufacture Controller, Air Weapons Division.Photos from her own album indicate that she worked on both the Blue Streak rockets and the Excalibur guided artillery shell. She was awarded the MBE for services to engineering,just before she retired in 1987.At her retirement party colleagues gave her a huge cartoon of her jealously guarding ‘her terminals’ (early computers).
Joan never married and lived with her mother until the latter died in 1971. Her leisure interests were all focussed on the dog world, setting up the De Havilland Dog Training Club for work colleagues. This later became the Hatfield South Dog Training Club, which is still flourishing under the leadership of those she trained in their youth and where she remains warmly remembered.
Engineer of the Week No. 61: Ray Strachey (nee Rachel Pearsall Conn Costelloe) (4th June 1887 - 16th July 1940)
On the 79th anniversary of her death, we remember Ray Strachey, who started out to be an engineer but spent most of her life campaigning for women’s rights.
Ray Strachey, born Rachel Pearsall Conn Costelloe (4 June 1887 London – 16 July 1940) is best known as a politician and writer. However she had a strong interest in engineering and was planning to study it before she was diverted by her marriage to Oliver Strachey in 1911.
Ray studied mathematics at Newnham College, Cambridge. During her studies she became involved with the campaign for women’s suffrage through her friendship with Philippa Strachey. Ray joined what became known as the Mud March in February 1907, and addressed meetings during summer 1907. She took part in the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies caravan tour in July 1908.
[Text by guest EOTW author, Katherine Kirk]
Engineer of the Week No.60: Letitia Chitty M.A., C.Eng,. F.R.Ae.S., M.I.C.E. (15 July 1897-29 September 1982)
On her 142nd birthday we remember Letitia Chitty, aeronautical and civil engineer.
Letitia Chitty was a talented mathematician who translated that into engineering, analysing the stresses of airframes, ships and civil engineering structures and became the first female fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society. Born into a well-off family in London, her father was a barrister, Letitia’s godmother was Violet Jex-Blake, niece of Sophia Jex-blake, the first female medical graduate in the UK. Her mother’s male relatives were part of the public-school heirarchy and it is clear that Letitia had support for her educational aspirations.She attended Kensington High school and then started to study maths at Newnham College, Cambridge. However, having done Part I of the Mathematics Tripos, she left to go to the Admiralty Air Department in 1918, where she worked with a group of other young women and men under Alfred Pippard. She recalled of this period: “There were no programmes, no calculating machines … we relied upon our slide rules and arithmetic in the margins … Lives were at stake and we couldn’t afford to let anything go through wrong.”
Engineer of the Week No. 59: Hilary Jeanette Kahn (Mrs Napper) BA, PGDipl (11th July 1943 - 4th November 2007)
On her 76th birthday we remember Hilary Kahn, pioneering software engineer who laid the basis for CAD for engineers of today.
Hilary Kahn was a software engineer, a career she arrived at almost by accident. Born in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1960 she left to get away from the apartheid politics of that era and, with her mother’s support, came to the UK, where she spent a year getting the A-levels she needed to go to university. She went to Bedford College University of London and graduated with a classics degree in Latin and Greek in 1964, with the idea of becoming an archaeologist. Not being able to find a job she happened to see an advert for computing postgraduate course at University of Newcastle and with no real idea of what it might be, applied thinking it looked interesting. Due to her lack of maths she was put into the Diploma in Business Processing, where she learnt COBOL (and Algol from a book), whilst also being one of the students who ran the university’s computing service in the evenings. The university’s computer was a KDF 9 machine from English Electric, descended from their earlier DEUCE machines (see Winifred Hackett’s involvement with those). Her diploma was supported by funding from English Electric in Kidsgrove, in return for which she had to work for them for a year after her graduation in 1965.
Engineer of the Week No.58: Elsie Joy Muntz (Mrs Davidson) (14 March 1910- 8 July 1940)
Today, on the 79th anniversary of her untimely death, we remember Joy Muntz, pioneering engineer-pilot.
Joy Muntz, as she was generally known, was a pioneering commercial pilot and aeronautical engineer. Born in 1910 in Ontario, Canada, she lived mainly in England. Her father, Rupert Gustavus Muntz was a clerk who died when she was only 4 years old. Little is known of her early life and education but in 1928 she (and her sister Hope) got jobs as ‘fabric hands’ at De Havillands’ factory where they would have been fitting fabric to the wooden frames of wings and fuselages but luckily for them they did not do the application of the toxic doping varnishes. Joy tried to get work in the drawing office but was turned down. However she did manage to get a minor job in the engineering workshops – stamping numbers on parts – which gave her the chance to apply for a trade apprenticeship (at 6d an hour, the equivalent of 2.5p!) in the engines department. Initially, she was set to cleaning out sumps, followed by the dismantling, cleaning and reassembling of new engines prior to their tests. So she soon knew every part of an aero-engine and started to take flying lessons in her lunch breaks. However that winter she crashed her motorbike, breaking her leg, which put her out of work until October 1929. De Havillands did take her back and set her onto brake testing but the firm’s flying school was about to move to Stag Lane and when she asked to go with it, she was turned down because she was not a ‘premium’ apprentice (ie paying for her training).
Engineer of the Week No. 57: The Rt Hon. Mary Parsons, Countess of Rosse (née Field) (1813-22 July 1885)
Today we remember Mary Parsons, blacksmith, photographer and ancestor of the founders of the Women’s Engineering Society.
Yorkshirewoman Mary Field was born into a wealthy family of landowners, the Fields of Heaton Hall, and her privileged upbringing gave her an exceptional mathematics education rarely available to girls in the early 19th century. At the age of 23 she married William Parson, Lord Oxmantown who soon inherited his father’s title becoming 3rd Earl of Rosse, so that Mary became Countess of Rosse. Although William was a good deal older than Mary they were well-matched as they had many technical interests in common. William was interested in astronomy and Mary helped him to build an enormous telescope, known as the ‘Leviathan of Parsontown’. Most unusually for any woman of that time, and especially for a woman of her class, Mary is said to have had expert blacksmithing skills and made the framework which supported this gigantic instrument. She also made an elaborately decorated iron keep gate for their estate,using the lost-wax method and the estate’s peat-fuelled furnaces.The couple were what we would now call ‘early adopters’ of new technologies and their next activity was photography. Again, Mary started taking and developing her own photographs, using the waxed-paper negative method, including some of the telescope. In 1854 these were exhibited at the Photographic Society's first show in London, earning her the Photographic Society of Ireland's first ever Silver Medal.
Although only 4 of her 11 children survived to adulthood, one of them was Sir Charles Parsons who, with his wife Katharine and daughter Rachel, were the principal instigators and supporters in establishing the Women’s Engineering Society in 1919.
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.