Engineer of the Week No. 91: Minnie Elizabeth (Betty) Barclay Lindsay, BSc (9th October 1897- 11th January 1953)
On her 124th birthday we remember Scotswoman Betty Lindsay, who despite her mechanical engineering degree worked mainly as a civil engineer in Albania.
Elizabeth Lindsay was born in 1897 in China where her father, Edward John Lindsay was a banker. However, when she was only 3 years old the family returned to Scotland where her father soon died and she was sent to live with her grandparents near Elgin. When her mother, too, died in 1913, Elizabeth went to live with her uncle, Rev. Alex William Watt, at Evie in Orkney, which she regarded as her home address for the rest of her life. In 1921 she gained a BSc in mechanical engineering from the University of Edinburgh, and is believed to probably have been only the 2nd woman engineering graduate (after Elizabeth Georgeson in 1919). During her studies she was awarded a 2nd class certificate of merit in mechanical engineering.
From 1922-25 she worked as a civil engineer, as an Engineering Assistant for William Tawse Ltd, on the Aberdeen waterworks Reconstruction scheme. Tawse were a major contracting company, who also built the Cruachan dam, and which later became the Aberdeen Construction Group.
In 1926 The Woman Engineer reported: “Some time ago the WES was asked to find a woman engineer who would be prepared to join a Mission which was being organised by Lady Carnarvon to go to Albania in connection with an Anti-Malarial Mission. Miss E. Lindsay, one of our Scottish members, who has trained and worked as a Civil Engineer, volunteered for the post. The Mission consists of two women doctors, a nurse, a chauffeuse, and a woman engineer. Miss Lindsay arrived at the State Hospital, Valona, Albania, on March 21st, having stayed some time previously in Italy, receiving instruction in anti-malarial work. Her duties at present consist of organising and supervising the work of draining, ditching and filling in pits, etc., and in clipping for and examining mosquito larvae. She writes that the work is most interesting but progress is necessarily very slow.”
From 1926 to the outbreak of war in 1939, Elizabeth worked on anti-malarial civil engineering projects in various parts of Albania, funded by various charities and the government. She worked for Rockefeller Foundation Engineer, Frederick W. Knipe, and International Health Board ecologist, Dr Lewis W. Hackett, who were the leading malariologists of their day. Whilst Knipe was the foremost proponent of chemical spraying to prevent mosquitoes, Hackett advocated environmental controls and Elizabeth’s work with him at Durazzo, involve increasing the salt content of a slough, in which mosquitoes were breeding prolifically, by connecting the slough with the Adriatic Sea, until the salinity was increased to a point which eliminated all breeding. In 1935 Elizabeth’s work would have involved her in the project which dammed the Tirana River in Albania to divert its entire summer flow into an irrigation system, with a view to preventing mosquito breeding during the malaria season. The Rockefeller Foundation’s annual reports do not name her, as she was not directly employed by them, but her role is described as “drainage engineer” working with Hackett.
Much of the work was camping out in the field, surveying waterways, in what was then a very undeveloped nation. Conditions in the field would have been extremely basic and social attitudes towards women were probably very difficult. Nevertheless, she apparently thrived there, learnt the language fluently and made local friends.
On her return to the UK at the outbreak of the Second World War, Elizabeth put these skills to good use and became a technical translator in both Spanish and Albanian, for the Air Ministry. Rising to the level of Chief Translator, she remained there until her death in 1953. She was buried in Edinkillie, Morayshire, where her grandmother added her memorial to the family grave.
Engineer of the week No.90: Dorothy Donaldson Buchanan (Mrs Fleming) (1899-1985) BSc, AMICE
Dorothy Donaldson Buchanan, the first woman in Britain to gain qualification as a civil engineer, was born at Langholm, Dumfriesshire where her father, the Reverend James Donaldson Buchanan, was a clergyman. Perhaps because her upbringing was surrounded by the bridges and other local works of the great engineer Thomas Telford, Dorothy Buchanan’s earliest ambitions were to become a civil engineer. She was edducated at Langholm Academy, the Ministers’ Daughters College and Edinburgh University, she gained a BSc in Engineering in 1923. She studied under the Nobel Laureate Professor Barkla, but was delayed in graduating by illness. Another tutor, Professor Beare, recommended her to contractors, S. Pearson & Sons, but they would not take her until she had some experience. Fortunately, at just that time, (Sir) Ralph Freeman was recruiting staff for his work as consultant to Dorman Long’s on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. He appointed her to the design office at £4 a week- the same as the “boys”. She worked for a while “running out weights of members, panels, girders etc” but then sought work on the drawing office, to work on the southern approach spans to the bridge.
Having gained the necessary experience, she was taken on by Pearsons in 1926 and worked on site at the Belfast Waterworks scheme in the Mourne Valley, where a reservoir was being built. This scheme ran into geological problems and the novel technique of using compressed air to dewater silty strata was used, giving Buchanan very interesting experience. Site work was apparently not a problem, with workers being content to see her as an engineer.
She returned to Dorman Long’s drawing office to work on the George V bridge in Newcastle and the Lambeth Bridge in London as well as the Dessouk and Khartoum bridges in Sudan.
In 1930 she left to get married (m. Fleming), feeling that to do both family and professional roles well would not be possible at the same time.
Dorothy was an active member of the Women’s Engineering Society, to which she gave a paper on the designs of some of ‘her’ bridges, which was published in The Woman Engineer in 1929. She successfully sat the exams in 1927 to become the Institution of Civil Engineers’ first female chartered engineer (then known as associate membership), which she regarded as a highlight of her life. In later years she took up rock climbing and painting and she died in 1985. The Institution of Civil Engineers now has a room named in her honour.
Engineer of the Week No. 89 Judy Butland (née Whiteley) MPhil (6th October 1940 - January 2019)
Today on what would have been her 79th birthday we remember Judy Butland, an engineering software designer who pioneered the use of computers at universities, her ‘Butland curves’ software still being in use.
Born in Leeds, Judy’s lifelong struggle with severe arthritis interrupted her schooling but with a year at the local technical college she gained enough A-levels to start on a maths honours degree course at the University of Manchester. She found the lectures boring and did not complete her degree but in 1964 she married fellow student David Butland.
Her first job was in the Information and Exchange section at AEI, Manchester, producing a weekly bulletin of technical articles and papers from engineering publications. In 1967 she was taken on at Manchester Business School as mathematical assistant to Dr Winifred Hackett, an aeronautical engineer. Hackett suggested that she might see whether computers would be useful for her research into the scheduling of the work flow in aeroplane production. The project entailed statistical analysis, which required complex calculations, so Hackett sent Judy to lectures on the principles of computing. The two women got along very well and this proved to be the start of Judy’s career in software engineering and she started to become computing advisor to other groups in the Business School, including a project with the Librarian to automate the classification of publications.
Her next job was in the Postgraduate School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Bradford (where her husband had also just found work), where they needed someone to supervise programming in research projects. University computing was at a very elementary level in those days and in many ways Judy did not immediately realise how innovative her work was. She developed a comprehensive set of tools to produce technical charts from research data, and made them freely available and it was soon being used in many universities. She wrote up the work she had been doing, and was awarded an M.Phil for her thesis. When she wrote an article about her work in an American electrical engineering publication, she had many requests for it from all over the world. The university soon realised that she was giving this software away so Judy set up a company to formalise the distribution, Bradford University Software Services (BUSS), and it was soon making enough money to take on staff, while she spent her time programming. She published a number of academic papers, including one on drawing a smooth curve though an arbitrary set of data points – a calculation that became known as Butland’s Algorithm. This is still in use today and a successor company, BUSS2, produces it as a smartphone app.
Judy’s very severe arthritis inhibited her later years and her last paid work in computing was to develop an internet-based interface to control a robotic telescope on Oxenhope Moor. In her retirement, she and her husband kept chickens, were involved in the local Scouts and continued to travel until her arthritis prevented it. She died in 2019 and her family have produced a very detailed biography online ( https://jbrip.home.blog/ ) from which the majority of the information for this profile has been taken.
Engineer of the Week No.88: Dr Winifred Hackett AMIEE (2nd October 1906 - 3rd June 1994)
On her 113th birthday we remember Winifred Hackett, electrical engineer.
Educated at King Edward’s Girls’ High School, Birmingham, Hackett was an exceptional student and won a scholarship there. She initially went to UCL to study architecture but then returned to Birmingham to study electrical engineering, graduating with a BSc Hons class 1 in 1929 – the first woman to gain such a degree. This also gained her the Bowen Scholarship for Electrical Engineering enabling her to stay on for a year’s research for an MSc. In 1930 she was awarded a grant by the Institution of Electrical Engineers' War Thanksgiving Education and Research Fund which helped her proceed to gain a PhD on selenium cells from University of Birmingham.
Her first job was as a Junior Technical Assistant to the British Electrical and Allied Industries Research Association at Perivale and then Leatherhead.
Having been involved with the Women’s Engineering Society since 1929, in 1946 she became President. This was when she was researching dielectrics for “a firm of capacitor manufacturers”. She published a number of papers on dielectrics, capacitors and DC design.
In the 1950s she was head of the Guided Weapons Division at English Electric, in Luton and later in Stevenage, where she was in charge of the Deuce computer and its programming on punched cards and paper tape. The Deuce was a version of Alan Turing’s Ace computer but was a commercial product, of which 33 were sold and which had a library of over 1,000 programs. The period when Hackett ran the guided weapons division also saw the development of the Thunderbird surface to air missile and other ballistic missiles. In the early 1960s she moved to join the Manchester Business School where she did statistical analysis.
Personal interests included fashion and the theatre, and in retirement her own ill health led her to devise various aids for disabled people. She died in 1994.
Engineer of the Week No. 87: Nora Stanton Blatch (Mrs Barney) PhD, PE, FSEI, MCOPRI, FASCE (30 September 1883 - 18 January 1971)
On her 136th birthday we remember civil engineer Nora Stanton Blatch, who was the USA’s first female engineering graduate.
Although Nora Stanton Blatch was born in England, her family moved the USA when she left school. She was accepted into Cornell’s Sibley School of Engineering as part of the first wave of female students, and became the USA’s first female engineering graduate in 1905, when she graduated from Cornell University with a cum laude degree in civil engineering. This acheivement is slightly less surprising when you realise that both her mother and grandmother were leading campaigners for the women’s vote. Her final year thesis was on “An Experimental Study of the Flow of Sand and Water in Pipes under Pressure”. One of her professors, Ernest William Schoder, wrote in a letter of recommendation for Barney that “She can use her hands and head, separately and together, better than many male seniors.”
Nora’s first job was for the New York City Board of Water Supply. In 1908, she married the wireless valve inventor, Lee de Forest. They spent their honeymoon in Europe promoting his products including a live broadcast by her mother, from the Eiffel Tower, on women’s rights. Back in New Jersey, she was refused a job in his capacitor factory, despite having an engineering degree which her husband did not have. In 1909 she not only had her daughter but she also began working as an assistant engineer and chief drafter for the Radley Steel Construction Company, and left her husband. The main reason why the marriage failed within a year was that De Forest could not bear her working and, in 1911, told the New York Times that they were divorcing because Nora was “all mentality and ambition, and persisted in following her career as a hydraulic engineer and an agitator.”
In 1912, she was employed by the New York Public Service Commision as an assistant engineer. From 1914 she worked for the Public Works Administration in Connecticut and Rhode Island as an architect, engineering inspector and a structural-steel designer, eventually becoming a real estate developer, with her architect daughter.
Nora died in 1971. In 2015, nearly a century after she was refused membership of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) she was posthumously elected to ASCE Fellow status. In 2017, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) honored her work on their water supply facilities by naming their 30-million-dollar tunnel-boring machine “NORA”, in use during repairs to the New York City’s Delaware Aqueduct. The project is considered the largest repair in the history of New York City’s water supply. Speaking about the project, Barney’s granddaughter Coline Jenkins said “Nora will be pushing forward and breaking ground, as she did in life.”
Engineer of the Week No.86: Florence Violet McKenzie OBE, ASTC, MWES, FAIN, MRNARS (nee Granville or Wallace) (28 September 1890-23 May 1982)
On her 119th birthday we remember Mrs Violet McKenzie, Australia’s first female electrical engineer, founder of a telegraphy school and initiator of the WRANS.
Violet McKenzie was usually known as Mrs Mac to the thousands of men and women who passed through her telegraphy training school before during and after WW2. Australia’s first female electrical engineer, Mrs Mac’s Wireless Shop in Sydney and Wireless Weekly magazine were also firsts for that country.
Born in Sydney in 1890 Florence Violet Granville mostly used her stepather’s surname, Wallace, until she married in 1924. Always tinkering with electrical things as a child, after she had attended Sydney Girls’ High School, Florence applied to study electrical engineering at Sydney Technical College but they would not admit her unless she ws working in the trade. So she printed some business cards, found herself some electrical work and returned to the college with the proof and then graduated in 1923. By which time her shop and magazine were well established amongst electricians and amateur radio enthusiasts. She was Australia’s first female ‘ham’ radio operator.
The most detailed account of her life and work is at https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/mckenzie_violet which recounts how she established the Australian equivalent of the UK’s Electrical Association for Women in the 1930s. As the Second World War approached she started teaching morse code to members of the Australian Women’s Flying Club. Then, in 1939, she set up the Women's Emergency Signalling Corps (WESC), with the idea to train women in telegraphy so that they could replace men working in civilian communications. By the time war broke out, 120 women had been trained to instructor standard, which was just as well as it soon became obvious that both civilians and military needed morse training, and very quickly. Some 12,000 men and women of all the services were trained at Mrs Mac’s school. When she offered to bring her female instructors into the Royal Australian Navy, the old guard there were horrified, despite the success of the WRNS in the UK. They rapidly backed down when she threatened to take her instructors to the air force and her initiative led to the establishment of the Women’s Royal Australian Navy (WRANS). Postwar she continued to offer her morse code classes until 1954 which, as if they were not already remarkable enough, she never charged any money for, meeting all the costs from her husband’s modest salary. Many merchant navy officers and airline pilots came to her for training and in 1978 a group of them laid on a celebratory party for her on Mother’s day. She died in 1982.
Engineer of the Week number 85
Jeanie Dicks (25 September 1893 – 6 July 1980) was responsible for the first permanent electrification of Winchester Cathedral in 1934.
Maude Jeanie Dicks was born in Winchester, Hampshire to Philip and Frances Maude (née Henning) Dicks and baptised at St Maurice’s Church on Wednesday 17 January 1894, alongside her older brother Philip John Dicks (d. 1921). Dicks and Sons had been set up as a gas fitters by her grandfather, John Dicks and taken over by his sons Philip and John in 1888. The company expanded and took on heating, lighting electrical and refrigeration work over the years.
After the death of her father Philip in 1926, Jeanie Dicks, age 33 and the only surviving child in the third generation, took over the family firm, now called Messrs. Dicks Ltd of Winchester. We know little about her life up until this point, but assume she has been involved in the family business.
By 1928 Miss Dicks was the first woman member of the Electrical Contractors Association and attended their annual conference at Cheltenham Spa [pictured] (where her photograph was taken outside the Pittville Pump Rooms by Mrs Nelly Atkinson*). In a mass photograph of the ECA members in 1931, Jeanie Dicks is the only woman pictured. She was also a member of the Women’s Engineering Society and the Lyceum Club.
In 1931, Jeanie Dicks won her company the contract to electrify the Deanery in Winchester for the newly appointed Dean, E Gordon Selwyn and Mrs Phyllis Eleanor Selwyn (nee Hoskyns). It must be remembered that electricity was still seen as a new and potentially dangerous technology at the time, with many houses and public buildings still lit by gas. A “Wizard in the Wall” marketing campaign was run in the 1930s attempting to demystify electricity. Recently donated papers in Hampshire Records Office show Miss Dicks as a very efficient project manager introducing electricity into an old dilapidated house suffering from damp, the enemy of electricity. Her company offered a bespoke service, drawing plans for the electrical circuits, designing, ordering or making suitable fittings. She seems to have built a good working relationship with the Selwyns, which stood her in good stead as the Dean was about to start a long term restoration and modernisation of Winchester Cathedral.
In September 1933, Messrs Wingfield-Bowles, the London based consulting engineers for Winchester Cathedral, issued a call for tenders for the electric lights and accessory works. Miss Dicks enquired about submitting a quote…
And so in 1934 Jeanie Dicks began to manage the first permanent electrification of Winchester Cathedral. Her firm also installed new heating and later a sound system.
A "Woman's Cathedral Job” was widely reported in the press, with the Lancashire Evening Post writing “She is Miss Jeanie Dicks, Winchester, and in a month’s time she and her engineers will have completed the first part of their task. Miss Dicks…secured the contract in competition with famous British and Continental firms." There was even an article in the Sydney Mail in Australia with a cartoon captioned “a woman in in charge of the installation of light and heat in Winchester Cathedral – and the men obey!” The International Women News reported far more thoughtfully on her “great care in avoiding risk of fire and in securing that an essentially modern development is in harmony with the ancient beauty it is to illuminate.”
It was a complicated job, and she supervised each element herself. It was discovered that to replace the choir-stall gaslights with electricity that cables would need to be run through the crypt. Electrifying the nave was the largest part of the operation but Dicks reduced the task by laying the cables at the same time as new central heating pipes were put in. This had necessitated removing and reburying coffins – except for that of Jane Austen, whom they managed to move gently to one side. Five miles of wire, capable of withstanding the cathedral’s infamously damp conditions, was especially created for the job by Messrs W T Henley’s, a firm which had specialised in creating insulated wire and waterproofed cables since the mid nineteenth century.
To ensure that the lighting was correct, Dicks and two of her staff, foreman Charlie Wicks and Ralph Slade, spent many evenings in the cathedral with the two men up in the roof experimenting with different types of lighting for Dicks to judge for effectiveness down in the nave. The extensive trials resulted in her recommendation for lights hidden by frosted glass. She had a reputation for knowing what “looks right”.
The electrification contract alone was worth £3,000 (the equivalent of around half a million pounds in 2018), and the heating and lighting work seems to have grown from the original plans, stretching into the 1940s and costing more than £20,000 in the end.
The company’s work wasn’t limited to the cathedral alone, Dicks Ltd is considered to have “illuminated Winchester” electrifying most of its churches, The Castle, and the Assizes Court as well as some of the great houses of Hampshire, including Beaulieu. The company expanded beyond Hampshire and in 1934 Miss Dicks secured a contract from West Riding County Council for the electrical work for a new sanatorium at Scotton Banks.
As Managing Director of Messrs. Dicks Ltd, she employed a staff of 75–90 people and was responsible for securing the jobs to keep them employed in the fields of radio, water engineering and plumbing. She encountered a certain amount of sexism where clients insisted on speaking with her male staff but rose above it to ensure that her firm was hired by well-heeled clients. Ralph Slade later said that "she wasn’t an easy lady to work for but she was always a fair one and her employees stayed with her".
Winifred Holtby, the novelist and journalist, referred to her in her seminal 1935 book Women and a Changing Civilisation as "without thinking too much about it they have as successfully broken the line between "women's interests" and "men's interests", as the English woman electrical engineer, Miss Jeanie Dicks, who secured the contract for rewiring Winchester Cathedral".
In April 1937, Miss Dicks was married to Ian McVean, a traveller for Beeston Boiler Company, in Winchester Cathedral by the Dean, Gordon Selwyn, and all the staff were invited to the service. As a wedding gift the Dean gave the couple an inscribed a copy of his book The Story of Winchester Cathedral, especially bound in white vellum. By March 1939 The Woman Engineer reported that "New ground has been covered by Mrs I. McVean who has been elected President of the Winchester Chamber of Commerce".
The 1939 England and Wales Register (Census) taken on 29 September, records that she and Ian lived in Flat 3, Lansdown House, Winchester. As well as “Managing Director Heating engineers, Electrical engineers, Plumbers" she is listed as an ARP Ambulance Driver. During the war years, work continued at the cathedral but lots of Ministry of Works contracts are also undertaken.
By 1954, she was president of the Electrical Industry Benevolent Association, Hants and Dorset branch. Soon after she exchanged notes with the soon to retire Dean Selwyn who reminisced about how pleased he still was that they had won the argument for the installation of radiators in the nave of the cathedral. [photo]
In 1960, she decided to retire. She sold the business in two parts, with four staff members buying the electrical contracting side from her for one pound and naming the new firm Dicks (Electrical Installations) Ltd. The firm continued to operate in Winchester and working on large national and international electrification projects until 2018.
Mrs Jeanie McVean died on 6 July 1980. The Hampshire Chronicle describing her a “one of the City’s leading business women over a period of 40 years’.
Guest Author Ceryl Evans @politicdormouse firstname.lastname@example.org
Engineer of the Week No.83: Emily Roebling (nee Warren) (23rd September 1843 - 28th February 1903)
Today we remember one of the USA’s most renowned women engineers, Emily Roebling, for her role in building the Brooklyn Bridge.
Emily Warren Roebling, who completed the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, was another of those indomitable women who was an “engineer-by-marriage”. Although the youngest in a large New York family she was lucky enough to get a good school education before meeting her husband during the American Civil War. She married engineer Washington Roebling in 1865, just before his father John Roebling started work on the Brooklyn Bridge design, and they were sent off to Europe for Washington to learn about caissons (cofferdams) which its construction would need. When they returned to the USA in 1867 Emily already had a new baby but they were thrown straight into work on the bridge as Washington’s father had died following an accident at the construction site. In 1870, Washington was struck down with decompression sickness following an accident in the caissons protecting the foundations of the new bridge. Although he survived, he was further incapacitated by a series of strokes and was confined to bed and barely able to communicate.
Fortunately for the project, Emily’s involvement from the beginning meant that, despite having no formal engineering training, she was very well versed in the details of bridge construction, such as the strength of materials, stress analysis, cable construction, and even the necessary calculations. She took over the day-to-day running of the project, communicating the day’s instructions to the supervisors on site, based on her discussions with her husband. She also had to deal with the politicians and even other engineering companies which, by 1882, were pressing to get her husband’s contract as chief engineer, on the grounds of his incapacity. Her constant presence, evident knowledge and authoritative speeches to those in power meant that many assumed she was in fact the bridge’s designer. Although she herself never claimed to be an engineer, let alone ‘The Bridge’s Engineer’, others certainly respected her as one, with E. F. Farrington, the chief wire engineer on site, referring to her publicly as “the first female field engineer”.
At the opening of the bridge in 1883, she was the first person to cross the bridge, where her contribution to its completion is marked with a plaque. The remainder of her life, apart from the care of her husband and ailing son, remained in the public sphere. She took a law qualification at New York University, where she won a prize for her article entitled “A Wife’s Disabilities.”. Emily was very involved in a number of women’s organisations as well as writing and campaigning for women’s rights and can be seen as having been amongst those women who laid the ground for the coming campaign for women’s suffrage. She died in 1903.
Engineer of the Week No.84: Professor Daphne Frances Jackson OBE, PhD, ARCS, FinstP. DSc, FIEE, CEng, CPhys, FRSA (23 September 1936 – 8 February 1991)
On what would have been her 83rd birthday we remember nuclear engineer and founder of the UK’s returner fellowships programme, Daphne Jackson.
Born and schooled in Peterborough, Daphne Jackson came from a very modest background. Her father was a machine tool operator and her mother had been a seamstress. Nevertheless, her attendance at Peterborough County Grammar School for Girls gave her what may have been an exceptionally good grounding in science for a girls’ school at that time and she was able to go to Imperial College and graduated in physics in 1958. She then went to the Battersea Institute of Technology (then part of the University of London and now part of the University of Surrey) to do her PhD on “The nuclear density distribution and optical model parameters of Li6”, lithium 6 being one of the stable isotopes of natural lithium. By that point she had already been appointed as an assistant lecture at the college and had started her prolific research publications, with several published papers before she had even gained her PhD. She authored or co-authored some 120 papers and books during the ensuing 30 years, including text books and basic introductions to nuclear science as well as her own specialised research. Initially her work was on the structural models of nuclei. In the 1970s she had become interested in the absorption behaviours of the pion subatomic particle but the final decade of her life was focussed on the medical use of nuclear physics and she was involved in the development of diagnostic tools we now take for granted, such as tomography used in medical scanners.
This incredible level of publication was reflected in her rapid academic rise from assistant lecturer to professor in 1971, much heralded as the first female professor of physics in the UK, becoming Dean of Faculty 10 years later. Along the way she also became the Institute of Physics’ (IoP) youngest ever fellow (1966), and gained a DSc from Imperial College in 1970. She became and fellow of the IEE and vice president of the IoP in 1974, and was awarded the OBE in 1987.
Jackson joined the Women’s Engineering Society in 1966 and was actively involved in the society until her death. In 1971 she aatended the 3rd International Conference of Women in Engineering and Science and took special interest in how engineers were educated at both further and higher education levels. She became the Society’s president in 1984, which must have been a hectic time for her as, in 1985, she founded the fellows’ scholarship scheme to assist women to return to careers in engineering, that would be named in her honour after her death (Daphne jackson Fellowships), securing hundreds of thousands of pounds from industry to fund the scholarships.
In 1991 she lost her fight with cancer - a disease she had been helping to fight through her research with the Institute for Cancer Research and the Royal Marsden Hospital, and on which she had published so many papers.
Engineer of the Week No.82: Maria (Marja) Ludwika Ziff (Mrs Watkins) BSc, C.Eng., MIEE, FIET, FRSA (circa 1918 – September 2010)
In the month of her death, 9 years ago, we remember Maria Watkins, defence electronics engineer.
Maria Ludwika Ziff was born in 1918 in Vienna, of Ukrainian parents who were working in Lvov, Maria left in 1938 to study electrical engineering at the University of Edinburgh, the professor having believed her application was from a Polish man. Her family refused to join her and only her younger sister survived the concentration camps. She graduated in Electrical Engineering (Communications) in 1941, and then became a technical assistant at Johnson and Phillips Ltd, who made cabling and navigation items for aircraft, working on technical problems of their distribution systems. Her job included supervising the repair of overhead power cables shot down by drunken solders to repairing electrical exchanges damaged by bombings. She was also a research assistant for new airplane guidance systems. During the war she lived in Blackheath, London where she spent her eventings as an air raid warden. She also did research for the PLUTO Pipeline Under The Ocean project and for a new secret airplane guidance system, in between her air raid warden duties. In 1947 she was appointed a lecturer at South East London Technical College and in 1959 a Lecturer, later a Senior Lecturer at Northampton College of Advanced Technology, now the City University, and also a visiting professor Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Boston, USA. She did research in medical electronics and published about 13 papers on these subjects. Maria was a member of Council and Senate of City University for three years and a member of Council and the Qualification board of the Institue of Electrical Engineering from 1976 to 1979. She became a freeman of the City of London and member and senior steward of the Worshipful Company of Scientific Instrument Makers, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a fellow of the IEE.
She joined the Women’s Engineering Society as soon as she arrived in the UK in 1939 and took an active part in the London Branch, the Society’s submission to the Finniston Enquiry, and its work with schoolgirls. She was WES President in 1980-81 and in 1984 donated the Watkins Medal to the society to be awarded to the best female engineering graduate of the year. She married Thomas (Tom) Brown Watkins, a fellow engineering student, when he returned from the war in 1946 and they lived in Sydenham and had two sons. Away from work her interests were English history, astronomy and skiing. She died in 2010.
Engineer of the Week No.81: Jane Anne Plant (Lunn Simpson) CBE FREng FRGS FRSA FRSE FRSM CEng CGeol FIMMM FAEG FGS (1945-2016)
This week we remember Professor Jane Plant, geochemist, metallurgist and expert on the effects of environmental chemicals and diet in cancers.
Professor Jane Plant had a many-faceted career in earth-sciences, metallurgy and even health authorship. Similar to many of our amazing engineering foresisters, Jane’s initial education was not, on the face of it, in engineering: she started in geology but via geochemistry and metallurgy came to be considered not just one of the leading geochemists of her era but also an important engineer.
Jane Ann Lunn was born in 1945 in Derbyshire, England. She was educated at Ashby de la Zouch Grammar School for Girls and gained a first class honours degree in geology from the University of Liverpool. She then joined the British Geological Survey and went to work for Stanley Bowie at the BGS Atomic Energy Section, where she developed geochemical survey methods to identify resources of economically important metals stream sediments in the north of Scotland. In 1977 this earned her a PhD on "Regional Geochemical mapping in Great Britain with particular reference to sources of error", from the University of Leicester. She rose quickly through the BGS and in 2002 became its first female Chief Scientist. Jane had also been awarded the CBE in 1997 and become the Institution of Mining and Metallurgy’s first woman president in 2001 Her work led to the worldwide applications of such databases, in mineral exploration, environmental issues and pollution, and in studying the health of ecosystems and humans. Her research areas also included metallogenesis and crustal evolution. She was proactive in public understanding of science and in encouraging young women in her field. Jane had several bouts of cancer which led her to research and publish on how diet and chemicals (such as cadmium and others) in the environment can affect susceptibility to cancer and other aspects of human health.
Her first marriage was to Dr. Ian Plant, and she later married Peter Simpson, a BGS colleague.
Engineer of the Week No.80: Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Audrey Killick FREng, FIEE, BSc, HonDSc (10th September 1924 – 7th July 2019)
On what would have been her 95th birthday we remember the recently-deceased defence electronics engineer, Betty Killick, who was also the first woman to become a fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering.
Betty Killick was one of the UK’s top, top-secret engineers, who worked her whole career in defence electronics. Said to have been simultaneously terrifying and inspiring to her colleagues, she was also a surprisingly irreverent person when dealing with the heirarchy, which her American counterparts found hilarious.
Unlike many women of her generation who entered engineering, there was nothing in that line within her family background. She was born and educated in south London and her father was an accountant who rose to become the Director of Finance to the Cotton Board. Drafted into the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) in about 1942 she became a radar mechanic, considered an elite trade by other WAAFs, because of the knowledge of maths and physics required to be accepted for training, but this gave her a taste for engineering. On demobilisation she worked briefly as a lab assistant at the Institute of Aviation Medicine, at Farnborough, before taking a degree in natural philosophy (physics) at St Andrews University.
When she graduated in 1951 she joined the Antenna Division of the Admiralty Signals Establishment near Portsmouth. Her early work was included revolutionary developments in defence radar and sonar systems. Of course her work in this field was and remains very secret but in 1969 she was permitted to publish some papers on microwave antenna arrays, at the 1st European Microwave Conference. One of the few publicly available descriptions of her work is from Royal Academy of Engineering’ citation in 1982, when she became its first female Fellow: “She rapidly made a name for herself through her work on broadband low-sidelobe reflectors, and on high power frequency scanning antennas. She later led a group developing an electronically scanned antenna and associated phase shifters, capable of handling 1MW of peak pulsed power. This was successfully demonstrated in 1969 as part of a radar which was electronically scanned in elevation and mechanically scanned in azimuth with a limited “look-back” facility by frequency scan.”
In 1969 she moved to the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment (AUWE) at Portland in Dorset, where she led development of new homing, propulsion and guidance systems for torpedoes. These systems were key to the long success of the Spearfish weapons used in submarines, and the smaller Sting Ray light torpedo fired from helicopters and aircraft, such that versions of these are still in use in the Royal Navy.
Her rise through the Civil Service’s scientific ranks was swift. She was promoted to Senior Principal Scientific Officer in 1966 and was further promoted to Deputy Chief Scientific Officer and Head of the Underwater Weapons Department at the AUWE ten years later. As well as her FREng, she was also honoured with a fellowship of the IEE (1980) and an honorary doctorate from St Andrews University (1988). Although quick to ensure equality for herself in her unique role at such a high level in the Scientific Civil Service, she absolutely rejected any labelling that mentioned her gender, prefering to be regarded as an excellent engineer with no reference to her gender.
On her official retirement from the Civil Service in 1984, she had a brief, unsatisfactory stint with GEC, but then joined the Marine Technology Directorate, facilitating knowledge transfer between academia and industry. She spent her retirement in a Sussex village and died in 2019.
Engineer of the Week No.79: Eliza Dinah Fairchild (AKA Mrs Evelyn Diana Turnour Sheffield) (6th September 1856- 28th November 1942)
163 years after her birthday we remember the highly colourful life of Evelyn Sheffield, a real “Eliza Doolittle” as in Shaw’s play Pygmalion, or how even a barmaid may take up engineering!
Mrs Sheffield cannot be compared to any of the female professional engineers who began their careers during her lifetime but hers is such an extraordinary story that the rules on ‘who is an engineer’ just have to be bent a wee bit to include her so that we can tell her tale. Eliza Dinah Fairchild was born in 1856 into a working class family in Southampton and had no engineering training or education that we are aware of but she and her brothers attended the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company’s school in Southampton, until at least the age of 14. Their father was a ship’s steward, a trade which Eliza followed in her early life as she became a barmaid. In 1877 she married Henry Digby Sheffield a minor member of the aristocracy. At this point many ‘facts’ become immersed in a sea of fantasy, lies and downright fraud.
She and Henry invented a ‘posher’ background for her, claiming that she had been born in Cadiz, Spain, the daughter of a British naval officer and a Spanish aristocrat. She took the name Evelyn Diana Turnour Fairchild, ‘Turnour’ being the surname of this imaginary naval father, and went by the name of Mrs Evelyn Sheffield from then on. Henry and Evelyn lived the leisured life of his class, travelling to the USA and Canada where they enjoyed big game hunting and fishing. In 1888, whilst Evelyn was in the UK, her husband died in Florida. The newly-widowed Evelyn was soon living openly with a John Lewis Garden, a Suffolk landowner and big-game hunter, with whom she seems to have enjoyed a relationship from before 1884 or before. When he died in 1892 she gained £7,000 from his estate (following a court case), enabling her to pursue her own interests for the rest of her life. She never married again.
Now we come to the engineering. Tony Martin’s family blog (https://www.lostcousins.com/newsletters2/aug19news.htm ) gives the full details of this period of her life. She had developed aninterest in medical treatments and had the idea that the use of hot dry air could be therapeutic for a range of ailments. In 1893 she learnt that an engineer, Mr Thomas Henry Rees, had taken out a patent for a hot vapour treatment device and they got a patent for their “ An Improved Medical Dry Bath for Applying Superheated Steam or Gases and Medicines in Vapour to the Human Body”.
However a Mr Lewis Tallerman also got involved at this point and Rees’s contribution to the technology became invisible. The therapy became known as the Tallerman-Sheffield hot-air treatment, even being written up in the medical journal, The Lancet. However in 1900 various legal disputes arose between the partners in the company. Both Rees and Tallerman were experienced businessmen and probably Sheffield had not been able to adequately protect her interests when the partnership was set up. Tallerman Institutes were set up at which the ‘baking’ treatment was offered to sufferers of rheumatism and joint problems, often being free for the poor.
In another bizarre turn of her life, in 1901 Evelyn was initiated into the esoteric Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn at its Isis-Urania temple in London.
Soon after that she was again embroiled in another court case, which became a very high profile scandal in such national papers as the News of the World. In 1905 she most ill-advisedly brought, and lost, a breach of promise case against the Marquess Townshend. They each thought the other was wealthy but both were soon disabused. Her fake identity was exposed and the offer of marriage was withdrawn on the grounds ‘that the plaintiff was an adventuress and a clairvoyant and otherwise unfit to become Marchioness’.”
Her lifestory with her invented persona was very widely publicised and seems very likely to have had at least some influence on George Bernard Shaw’s play, Pygmalion, which was published in 1913, in which of course the working class girl raised from the gutter is even called Eliza.
Tallerman did everything he could to expunge Mrs Sheffield from association financially or otherwise with his therapeutic work. She must have considered herself to still have interests in the field because, in the 1911 census she gave her occupation as ‘medical’ and in the 1939 national ID Card register as ‘inventor of medical dry air baths and pads’. She lived in various quite nice London houses until her death in 1942 when she left only about £300 to an engineer called Percy Lock. She never relinquished her invented identity even in official documents.
So, was she an ‘engineer’? An independent and enterprising woman, certainly, and her involvement in engineering was essentially no less than that of Sarah Guppy (suspension bridge patentee), but most of her life was coloured by her legal problems which probably made it hard for her to follow her interests in innovating.
Engineer of the Week No.78: Mrs Veronica Jean Kathleen Milligan (“Ronnie”, nee O’Neil) BA, C.Eng., MIEE, AMBIM (11th March 1926 - 3rd September 1989)
Today we remember electrical engineer Ronnie Milligan on the 30th anniversary of her death.
Born in 1926 in Pontypridd, South Wales, “Ronnie” Milligan (nee O’Neil) would spend her entire life living and working in the Principality. Her father was a school teacher and it initially looked as though Veronica would follow in his footsteps, as she gained a degree in English and Economics from the University College of South Wales and trained to become a teacher. However marriage to Francis Milligan in 1945 led to her joining him and her brother, Maitland, in studying part-time for an HNC in electrical engineering, whilst also raising her two baby sons. By dint of offering to work for nothing with the South Wales Electricity Board she was instead offered a paid graduate traineeship and hence became the first female engineer in SWEB. Her first big responsibility was to check and rectify all air break links in the 11kv line in a district, with a gang of 12 far more experienced men to oversee, after previous engineer electrocuted himself. 1959 she gained her chartered engineer status with the Institution of Electrical Engineers (now IET), and moved to planning electrification schemes.
In 1961 she and her husband set up their own consultancy, CivLec Industrial Advisory Services, which was intended to be part time while they both had jobs but quickly became too demanding so the consultancy became full time. She took a diploma in management studies and became a member of the British Institute of Management. This led, in the 1970s to many appointments with government advisory panels on industrial management, principally in the heavy industries and nationalised industries, including the Commission on Energy and Manpower and the Council of Engineering Institutions.
Having joined the Women’s Engineering Society in 1964 she was soon active, setting up and running a new branch in Wales in 1966, joining the WES council in 1968 and becoming the society’s president in 1978-79. Her great interest was in careers guidance for girls and she visited scores of schools in Wales promoting engineering careers, as well as advising careers guidance professionals. She died in her long-time home in Rhiwderin ,Newport, Gwent in 1989 after a short illness and was survived by one of her two sons.
Engineer of the Week No.77: Marjem or Marynia Chatterton (nee Znamirowska/Znamerovschi) BSc, FIStructE. (September 1916 – March 2010)
103 years since the month of her birth in Poland we remember structural engineer Marjem Chatterton, who was a real pioneer in the then newly-emerging nations of Israel and Zimbabwe, as well as an early female engineer in her field.
Marjem Chatterton was the first female fellow of the Institution of Structural Engineers and designer of many of Zimbabwe’s first skyscrapers, including that nation’s national bank building.
Born Marjem or Marynia Znamirowska in Warsaw, Poland, in September 1916, she grew up in a large Orthodox Jewish family, where girls’ education was considered important. She had planned to return to Poland to study chemical engineering at the University of Warsaw, but in 1934 it was clear that the situation for Poland’s Jews was worsening, so she enrolled at the Hebrew Technical Institute in Haifa. Known as the ‘Technion’, one of her aunts – Rachel Shalon, the first female engineer in the country – was a faculty assistant there. Photos of Marjem in class show that she was far from being the only woman studying engineering at the Technion.
Graduating in civil engineering in 1939, with the first distinction in engineering awarded by the Technion, Znamirowska took a job that had been offered to her by a faculty member, Josef Edelman, who ran the Technical Office of the Collective Settlements Association, building some of the country’s largest kibbutzim as well as factories and bridges. She also assisted with paramilitary roles during the war. Although her own parents escaped from the Nazis, most of the rest of the family were lost in the Holocaust.
In 1947 the war, Marjem and her British husband, Frank Chatterton, emigrated with their children to Southern Rhodesia, where she found a job as a reinforced concrete designer within 2 days of arriving in the country. Her experience with reinforced concrete structures in Palestine was particularly useful, as at that time it was nearly impossible to get hold of heavy steel sections locally. Southern Rhodesia was socially very conservative and everyone was taken aback to be working with a femal engineer but, once her competence became evident, her ‘oddity’ meant she was soon very well-known. Specialising in multi-storey structures, Initially she worked for Lysaght and Company but in 1969 she established her own consulting firm, M. Chatterton and Partners. As well as prestigious urban skyscrapers, she also designed many industrial facilities for the cotton, fertiliser, and sugar industries.
In 1976, the worsening political situation in Zimbabwe led to her moving to Leeds University as a lecturer, and also became involved in the university’s campaign to encourage girls into engineering, giving careers talks in girls’ schools. In 1984 she returned to consultancy in Zimbabwe, also teaching at the national university. Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980 meant that sanctions were lifted and investment poured in and she gained a lot of work and her buildings still define the skyline of Zimbabwe’s capital Harare, with her last major project – the 26-storey Reserve Bank – being the tallest office building in the country. By 1999, although Marjem was still working (at the age of 83), the political situation was again worsening and she decided to take retirement and return to the UK.
Engineer of the week No.76: Mrs. Ayyalasomayajula Lalitha BEng, MIEE (27 August 1919-12 October 1979)
On the centenary of her birth we remember India’s first female electrical engineering professional.
Mrs. Ayyalasomayajula Lalitha was India’s first female to become a professional engineer. Born in Chennai (formerly Madras) in 1919, she would follow her father, Pappu Subba Rao, into his profession of electrical engineering. She was fortunate to have such a father, since she found herself as a widow with a daughter at the age of only 22 and he supported her wish to complete her secondary education and go to study engineering at the College of Engineering, Guindy (CEG) where he was a professor. This was against all traditions of what widows should do and of course was a totally unique choice of career for an Indian woman at that time, although 2 other women did join the college to study civil engineering while she was there. Lalitha graduated in electrical engineering in 1943, but there was a further, final, requirement for the degree: practical training. Lalitha completed her one year apprenticeship in Jamalpur Railway Workshop, which was a major repair and overhaul facility.
She then took her first job: as an assistant engineer at the Central Standards Organization of India, in Simla. This enabled her to live with her brother’s family who helped by looking after her young daughter. In 1946 she went to work for her father, assisting him with his research and patents but in 1948 made her final move, to the company for which she would work for the rest of her career: Associated Electrical Industries (AEI). With AEI she became a design engineer specialising in power transmission equipment, including protective gear, substation and generator design. The most significant contract on which she worked was theBhakra Nangal Dam, but she then worked more on contract engineering, as an intermediary between the equipment manufacturers in England and the local installation and servicing engineers, which often required field visits. She continued to work in the same office of AEI, in Kolkota (Calcutta) later taken over by General Electric Company (GEC). In 1953 the Council of the Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE), London elected her to be an associate member, promoted to full member in 1966. She retired after a 30 year career and died in 1979.
Engineer of the Week No. 75: Kathleen Mary Cook (Mrs D.I.H. Goodwin) AMIMechE, FIBF MIProdEng (25th August 1910 - 1971)
On her 109th birthday we remember Kathleen Cook mechanical engineer, entrepreneur and WES President.
Kathleen Cook was born in London in 1910 and educated at La Convent of the Sainte Union des Sacres Coeurs, North London, followed by a 7 year apprenticeship in 1928 at Hercules Engineering Company, in North London. As far as we can tell she had no formal post-school technical education. Her father, initially a machine shop foreman in the automobile industry, became a director of this small general engineering and press tool company. During the Second World War she and her three brothers ran a factory in Northolt, making gun breech mechanisms. In her spare time she liked to volunteer as a mechanic at Brooklands race track. In 1942 she was appointed director of Hercules Aircraft Construction Co Ltd and in 1945 was a founder member of Universal Equipment Co Ltd. In 1949 she set up Kainder Ltd, to make her own invention, the Kainder Mobile Bed. In 1951 she joined Wilman Engineering Co Ltd, a small manufacturer of making electronic equipment and automatic control units, which was struggling financially and helped rescue it. She remarked that the very hard times in engineering she experienced during the depression when she was just starting her career, stood her in good stead when she took on and turned around various struggling firms in her later career. She married Dennis Goodwin, at this period, who was a director of Brentford Foundries, and George Spicer Ltd. She was a fellow of the Institute of Production Engineering and of the Institution of British Foundrymen (their first female fellow). She died in 1971 after a long illness.
Kathleen joined the Women’s Engineering Society in 1931 and was immediately energetically involved, joining the council in 1936, vice president in 1951 and president in 1955-6. She died in 1971 after a long illness.
Engineer of the Week No.74: Phoebe Sarah Hertha Ayrton (nee Marks) BSc, MIEE (28 April 1854 – 26 August 1923)
96 years ago this week we lost one of the first British women to contribute to engineering and sciences, Hertha Ayrton.
Hertha Ayrton, engineer, physicist, mathematician and inventor, was a pioneer in the application of science to practical engineering problems and was one of the first women to work in electrical engineering in the UK.
Ayrton, born Phoebe Sarah Marks, received an usually excellent education for her time. Her mother, a widowed seamstress, thought that girls needed a good education because they would have harder lives than boys. She studied with an aunt who ran a school in London, and then attended Girton College, Cambridge to read mathematics. Known to her family as Sarah, she changed her name to Hertha, inspired by a Swinburne poem.
After passing the examinations (she wasn’t awarded a degree as Cambridge didn’t give degrees to women at this time), Hertha returned to London to teach. She was awarded a BSc degree from the University of London and took out patents on a line divider, one of numerous inventions she would patent in her lifetime. Hertha also attended classes at Finsbury Technical College, where she met her future husband William Ayrton.
Engineer of the Week No. 73: Mrs May Maple (nee Newby) (8th Aug 1914- 19th August 2012) FIEE, CEng., FRSCA
On the seventh anniversary of her death, we remember electrical power engineer and WES president, May Maple.
Mrs May Maple’s life before she joined the Women’s Engineering Society in 1950 is unclear, but she is likely to have been born in 1914 in Gateshead to Mr & Mrs Albert Newby, and to have married Wiliam Maple in 1939. She started her engineering career as a purchasing officer with the London Transport Board and then moved to Edmundson’s Electricity Corporation. She gained an HNC in Electrical engineering doing a 5-year nightschool course from Action Technical College, whilst at Edmundson’s. In 1948 when the electricity supply industry was nationalised she continued her work in the Contracts department of the British Electricity Authority, gradually being promoted until she was a2nd Assistant engineer in Contracts Department (1953). In 1955 she gained her associateship of the IEE, rising through its membership grades as MIEE and Chartered Engineer (1966), to become an FIEE in 1969. By 1965 she was a Contracts Officer with the CEGB, responsible for all electrical equipment contracts and only woman in this position.
She was active in the Women’s Engineering Society from not long after she joined, initially on the committee of the London branch,getting involved in education outreach to schools and taking on the onerous task of finding paid advertising for The Woman Engineer for over 10 years. In 1970-71 she was the Society’s president and also actively supporting the International Conferences of Women Engineers and Scientists. This involved travelling widely which she continued into her later years. She was made an Honorary Member of WES in 1979 and awarded the society’s highest award, the Isabel Hardwich brooch, in 1991. She died in 2012 and left a legacy to the society in her will.
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.
Engineer of the Week No.71: Professor Margaret Law MBE BSc CEng FIFireE FSFPE (1928 - 27 Aug 2017)
Just two years since her death we remember fire safety engineer, Margaret Law.
Margaret Law was considered by her contemporaries to be a pioneer in the, then new, field of fire engineering. Born and educated in London, she gained her degree in maths and physics from the University of London and got her first job in 1952, at the government’s Fire Research Station in Borehamwood, only 3 years after it was established. Her experimental work featured on the FRS’s research report cover in 1952. During her 20 year association with the FRS (which later became part of the Building Research Establishment) she contributed to 34 Fire Research Notes (reports). The topics ranged from the small, domestic issues of cooker fires in caravans and prefabs, to the Cold War concerns of the potential for nuclear radiation to start fires: “On The Possibility Of Ignition Of Materials By Radiation From Nuclear Explosions”. Her interests were in the effects of materials and structures on fires and how they spread, such as how fire moves through high rise flats with balconies, or the optimum protective coating for structural steelwork.
Engineer of the Week No. 70: Johanna Weber Dr. Rer. Nat. (8 August 1910 – 24 October 2014)
On her 109th birthday we remember aerodynamic engineer Johanna Weber.
Dr Johanna Weber, was one of the foremost aerodynamicists of her generation and contributed significantly to the design of the Concorde and other supersonic swept-wing aircraft.
Born in Düsseldorf, Germany she lost her father in the First World War, making her eligible for financial support, so she could attend a convent school and then go on to university. She graduated Dr. rer. nat. (a first degree but to doctoral level, in natural philosophy or physics) with first-class honours in 1935. Despite teacher training her refusal to join the Nazi Party excluded her from such work but, rather oddly, not from work in armaments. She first worked for the massive Krupp company in Essen as a researcher in ballistics doing mathematical computations using mechanical calculators. In 1939 she moved to Göttingen’s Aerodynamics Research Institute (Aerodynamische Versuchsanstalt Göttingen) to begin a lifelong collaboration with Dietrich Küchemann on aerodynamics which, amongst a mass of other significant publications, led to their seminal book,Aerodynamics of Propulsion.
At the end of the War, senior people from the Royal Aircraft Establishment Farnborough were sent to Germany under Operation Surgeon to survey German aeronautical resources and research. In addition to acquiring many wind tunnels, they also recruited Küchemann and persuaded Weber, probably on the recommendation of Hilda Lyon who was part of the RAE team sent to Germany wrote the report covering their work. They arrived in 1946 and until 1953 were ‘enemy aliens’, on repeat 6-month contracts, until they then were naturalised as UK citizens. From then on Weber lived with the Küchemann family until eventually she bought the house next to theirs.
Her initial work at RAE was in Frances Bradfield’s Low Speed Wind Tunnels division, on air intake cowlings for jet engines, on which she co-authored a series of papers. The work for which she is more remembered today was on wing design, for which she showed that a thin delta wing could generate sufficient lift to for take-off and landing for supersonic planes, and was implemented in the iconic Concordes. Her design work was also involved in wing shape for both the VC10 airliner and the more recent Airbus A300B. She retired from the RAE in 1975 at the grade of Senior Principal Scientific Officer, but still did some consultancy with them for a while, whilst also pursuing personal interests in geology and psychology. She never married and helped financially support members of her family who remained in Germany.
For a more detailed technical review of her work, see John Green’s obituary for the Royal Aeronautical Society: https://www.aerosociety.com/news/obituary-dr-johanna-weber/
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.
Engineer of the Week No.68: Gladys Lawson (13th July 1904-September 1998)
Today we remember Gladys Lawson, one of the unsung heroes of the engineering world: a draughtswoman who designed and drew power transformers.
When seeking the stories of women in engineering, we are mostly invited to admire the ‘stars’ of the profession: women who rose to run companies or research departments, women who innovated or patented, women who campaign for the profession. It is as well perhaps to remember that few of us ever rise to such heights, most engineers (of any gender) do not become company managers or take out patents but still enable our technological society to function and the world to go round. For those of our fore-sister who were destined never to be ‘Straight-A’ (or even modest B) students, there is still a role model to offer to today’s girls and young women: there are still excellent careers for you in engineering, even (especially?) if you never get an engineering degree but become a good, reliable technician.
With this in mind here is someone of that sort: a woman who came from the humblest background with little education but rose to responsibility in a major engineering firm’s drawing offices. Lancashire lass Gladys Lawson was born in 1904 into a modest working class family, in which her father was a clerk for the local tram company. She left school at 15 and joined the massive Metropolitan Vickers engineering company in Manchester on its staff. She herself said she was certainly no ‘engineering prdigy’ but was hoping to take commercial training to improve her clerical skills and rise to a secretarial grade. This she achieved and became the secretary to the Chief Engineer of the Transformer Department. At some time in the1920s she fell ill and was out of work for several years. On her return in 1929 she felt unsettled and was delighted to make a change when a vacancy for a Drawing Office Assistant came up.
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.