Engineer of the Week No.117: Rosemary Ethel Elizabeth West (nee Lambert) MA MIEE, CEng (8th December 1928 - 6th February 2013)
On what would have been her 91st birthday we celebrate the work of Rosemary West, WES president and pioneering computer engineer.
Rosemary was born in 1928 in Lyme Regis, Dorset, the second daughter of Edward William Lambert, who followed his father into the family’s law firm in Burma before entering the British colonial service and rising to become the Director of the Crown Office in Burma (Myanmar). She was educated a number of boarding schools in the UK and even in Burma and India during the war years and was accepted to read maths at Oxford, where she was a rowing Blue. Having had a vacation job with Metropolitan Vickers, she changed to engineering and graduated in Engineering Sciences from Somerville College, Oxford, in 1951, only the third woman ever to do so from Oxford. She went straight into a graduate apprenticeship with GEC Ltd in Coventry and by 1957 was one of their electronic development engineers in the Applied Development Laboratories, working on specialised test equipment. The following year her daughter was born which led GEC to sack her, following which she taught in a school and also in Kirkcaldy Technical College. In 1971 she and her husband set up Westek Engineering Ltd, in Ibstock, Leicestershire, developing microcomputer systems, interfaces and computer-controlled transducers for test equipment and industrial controls. By 1967 she was a chartered engineer and a full member of the IEE. By the time she became President of the Society she was working as a microcomputer specialist in the Computer Centre at Loughborough University of Technology.
Rosemary joined WES in 1950 and by 1961 was chair of the Midlands branch, becoming the society’s president in 1982-3. She wrote several pieces for The Woman Engineer to stimulate members to think about the future of the Society. Given her own experiences of being made redundant and of trying to fit in a career with a family she was very interested in the whole issue of women returning to work after career breaks which must have tied in very well with her successor, Professor Daphne Jackson’s similar interests. She wrote an article, Engineering Management for Women, for the IEEProceedings and produced a WES booklet for schoolgirls, What is Engineering? She died in 2013, in the Isle of Wight.
Engineer of the Week No. 116: Maria de Lourdes Ruivo da Silva de Matos Pintasilgo, GCC GCIH GCL (18 January 1930 – Lisbon, 10 July 2004)
Pintasilgo was a chemical engineer and Portuguese politician. She was the first and to date only woman to serve as Prime Minister of Portugal, albeit for only 100 days, in 1979.
Educated at a Lisbon secondary school, she was an enthusiastic member of the compulsory youth organisation, Mocidade Portuguesa Feminina, and also joined Acção Católica (Catholic Action). She then went to the Instituto Superior Técnico graduating in industrial chemical engineering in 1953. Whilst there she became active the Catholic's women's student movement, which was the start of her political interests. Her first job after university was as a graduate trainee with the national Nuclear Energy Board. She then moved to one of Portugal’s oldest and largest engineering conglomerate with interests in cement plants, Companhia União Fabril. By 1954, she held the position of chief engineer of the research and projects division, from which she became responsible for the company's technical journals, until she left in 1960, thus ending her period as an engineer. Her political career developed with various organisations in the Roman Catholic laywomen's movement whilst working for the government's program for development and social change. In 1974 she was appointed secretary of state for social welfare in the first provisional government following the revolution, rising to become Minister of Social Affairs by early 1975. In 1975, Pintasilgo became Portugal's first Ambassador to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO. In 1979 the Portugese president asked her to become Prime Minister of the Portuguese caretaker government, for a period of 3 months, making her the 2nd woman prime minister in Europe (after Thatcher). Although her term of office very brief she was able to use it to introduce some social welfare reforms and later was elected to the European Parliament. She died in 2004 but since 2016, the Instituto Superior Técnico awards the Maria de Lourdes Pintasilgo Award to 2 female engineering graduates.
Engineer of the Week No. 115: Isabel Hodgson Hadfield, MSc, DiplEd., MSPA (29th January 1893- 6th February 1965)
Chemical engineer Isabel Hadfield spent most of her career in research at the NPL. We do not generally think of fabrics as engineering materials these days but in the early days of aviation, cotton and linen were the usual coverings for aeroplanes’ wood-framed structures. Her research, initially for this purpose but later for more general industrial needs, looked at the effects of the mild acids used to process cloth and of sunshine on cotton fabrics. Her approach was entirely that of the engineer: the physical and chemical structures and properties of the material under consideration in respect to the stresses and strains which would be required of it.
Born in Hampshire, where her father was a schoolmaster, she was mainly raised in north east London. She graduated from East London College (now Queen Mary College) with a BSc in chemistry in 1914, then took a Diploma of Education and became a chemistry mistress for the Birmingham Education Council. In 1917 the demands of the war effort led her to join the National Physical Laboratory, where she would remain for a full career as a researcher. Her war work was, as discussed already, on the deterioration properties of cotton and linen in aeronautical use, on which she co-authored her first paper in 1918. In 1923 she gained an MSc in chemistry from East London Technical College, with her dissertation being on ‘doped’ fabrics. Her work on cotton, now for industrial purposes, continued through the 1920s, including the publication of 4 more papers, one of which she gave at the at Conference for Women in Science and industry, at the Empire Exhibition, Wembley,16th July 1925, later published in The Woman Engineer. In 1927 she was part of the NPL total solar eclipse expedition, for which she was to have provided the colour and photometric photographs, except that the entire proceedings descended to “a solemn farce” due to the total cloud cover for most that day! Her later career took her into metallurgy and research methods and by 1947 she was the most senior woman at NPL: a PSO in the Metallurgyy section, and was publishing on a range of related topics.
In 1933 she was one of the founder members of the Micro-chemical Group within the Chemistry Society (now RCS) and in 1944 was admitted as member to Society of Public Analysts. In 1948 she was the only woman on the committee developing BS1428 on microchemical analysis standards. She had a full career at the NPL, retiring at the usual age for women in 1953, with the rank of Principal Scientific Officer. She never married and died in Winchester in 1965.