STICK Conference 2019 Summary: 100 Years of Women in Engineering”

STICK held its 2019 conference at the Glasgow Women’s Library on November 6th. We welcomed a host of superb speakers and colleagues from heritage, culture, engineering and research backgrounds, as well as interested individuals.

2019 marked the centenary of the Women’s Engineering Society (WES). The Society was founded to support women engineers who, although welcomed into the profession during World War One, were often told “not to get comfortable” and came under pressure at the end of the war to leave the workforce to release jobs for men returning from the forces. The Women’s Engineering Society sought to resist this pressure, but also to promote engineering as a rewarding job for women as well as men. The STICK conference sought to celebrate 100 years of WES and women in engineering, with speakers who celebrated the successes of women in engineering both past and present, exploring the challenges around telling these stories and engaging in the debate.

Keynote: “More than Pioneers: 100 Years of Women in Engineering”

Dr Nina Baker

It is over a century since women were first able to start to become engineers and 2019 is the centenary of the founding of the Women’s Engineering Society. We honour many of the women who battled to get careers in engineering in the early 20th century for the pioneering role they had in opening doors into a male-dominated workplace.  

This keynote will look first at the various routes into engineering available a century ago, including the first Scottish women engineering graduates. It will then look at the technical achievements of some women engineers in Scotland, to reveal how they were not ‘merely’ pioneers as females but also as excellent engineers. Although some of these histories have become much better known in recent years, not least with the new display about Dorothee Pullinger, at the Glasgow Riverside Transport Museum, the stories of many women who were well known in their time have become lost or hidden and deserve to come out into the limelight.  

A valid question to put to the Women’s Engineering Society might be – why is it still needed – surely all those diversity battles are long since won? The reality is, as ever, heavily reliant on cultural influences – with percentages of women engineers varying widely around the world and the UK having a long way to go to catch up. Museums and archives are a key way in which the general public absorb their present and past cultures and have vital role in changing attitudes so this is a very appropriate year for STICK to be looking at the world of engineering and its persistent male-majority environment. 

Dr Nina Baker has had a varied career, having become a merchant navy deck officer on leaving school and then taken an engineering design degree in her 30s, from the University of Warwick. She also gained a PhD in concrete durability from the University of Liverpool. She has lived with her family in Glasgow since 1989, working variously as a materials lecturer in further education and as a research administrator and, until 2017, as an elected city councillor. Now retired from all that, her interest in promoting STEM careers for girls has led her to become an independent researcher, mainly specialising in the history of women in engineering. 

“Unladylike exploits with wiring’: re-examining the records of women in engineering”

Asha Gage and Aisling O’Malley, Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET)

The IET Archives holds the collections of the Women’s Engineering Society (WES), the Electrical Association for Women (EAW) and the personal papers of Dame Caroline Haslett, along with records of engineering companies such as STC, which employed women in a variety of roles. We have been working with researchers and other institutions to open up these collections and contribute to an informed debate on the history of women engineers. The aim of this paper is to draw on these projects to discuss how definitions of a ‘woman engineer’ and a ‘pioneer’ have changed, along with our understanding of how women act and interact in the engineering and technology space. It will also look at how this research informs the way we manage and interpret the IET’s collections today. 

Asha Gage and Aisling O’Malley are the Archivists at the IET. The IET Library and Archives are an extensive collection which dates back to the late 14th century. The collections include the archives of the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) and the Electrical Association for Women (EAW).  

“Women at Work: “Engineering for Educated Women” at Galloway Engineering Co Tongland”

Dr Katherine Kirk

The Tongland Works of the Galloway Engineering Company, built during the First World War, was a unique venture to not only carry out war work in engineering, but to train women as professional engineers. The factory later became famous for producing the Galloway car, the “car for ladies made by others of their sex”, which is closely associated with the story of Dorothée Pullinger, pioneer motor engineer, business woman, and competitor (in a Galloway car) in 1920s motor trials. 

The Galloway Engineering Company’s Tongland works was an off-shoot of the much larger Arrol-Johnston/ Beardmore aero engine factory at Heathhall and was set up to produce a new design of high powered (200 hp) aero engines needed for the 1917-18 war programme. The premise of the Tongland works was different from other training factories in the First World War, in that a full course of professional training was offered, not just a rapid induction to a particular area of engineering. It was not an entirely “female only” establishment, however, the main supervisors for the work were women with a large majority of female labour, who had been recruited to the training scheme.  

For this demanding work, the Galloway Engineering Company was trying to avoid the pitfalls of using unskilled labour and dilutees by creating a new workforce of professional female engineers who were committed to developing their own engineering career. There was a strong emphasis in the publicity material that the Tongland factory was “suitable” for women. There was also an emphasis on overall quality of life, good food, opportunities for sport, enjoyment of the surrounding countryside.  

After the War Arrol-Johnston at Heathhall reverted to car production but the Tongland works continued initially with work on the B.H.P. aero engine and the Beardmore/ Galloway Adriatic and Atlantic models. The company became Galloway Motors Ltd in November 1920 (the Directors included Dorothée Pullinger) and began to produce the Galloway car.  

However, in 1919 the Restoration of Pre-War Practices Act had created an expectation that women should withdraw from industrial jobs and engineering careers, and that to attempt to continue was “taking a job from a man”. It became clear that engineering opportunites for women outside Tongland were extremely limited and public opinion was against them. By the time the Tongland factory closed, the unique experiment in training female engineers was over, and the outcome for the 60, maybe up to 200, female participants is unknown for many of them.  

When Katherine was Professor of Physics at the University of the West of Scotland in 2017 she was awarded funding for a Royal Academy of Engineering “Ingenious” public engagement project “A Car for Women and Other Stories”,  working in cross-disciplinary collaboration with colleagues in film-making and cultural studies. At the same time they were also awarded internal university funding from the Vice-Principal’s Research Fund on people’s engagement with materials and industrial heritage.  

Katherine is originally from Nottinghamshire, England. Whilst an undergraduate at Manchester University, she discovered that my favourite part of Physics was making little things and testing them, in other words, the study of interesting new materials and new electronic devices you can make with them. This brought her to Scotland to a PhD in Superconductivity at Strathclyde University, and research posts in Ultrasonics at Strathclyde and Nano Magnetics at University of Glasgow. She joined UWS in 2000 as a Lecturer and was promoted to Professor in 2005, working on miniaturised devices and sensors especially for use in the engineering discipline of non-destructive testing. 

She am a Council member at her professional engineering institute, British Institute of Non Destructive Testing. She was elected in 2018 to Council at the Women’s Engineering Society, and to the committee of the Institute of Physics “Women in Physics” group. This year she was elected to the national committee of the Institute of Physics in Scotland. Also in connection with industrial heritage she is a board member of Govan Docks Regeneration Trust. 

“Reflections – An Aerospace Eyed View”

Alison Nuttall, BAE Systems

Looking back in history, experiences often relate to the tenacity of women in engineering and barriers to having a voice. How relevant is this today?  

To help answer this question, I will describe how the contribution of women in engineering has changed in my Industry by taking you on a journey through the BAE Systems archives and sharing personal experiences. This will also embrace how technology has influenced our working lives including providing enablers and barriers to inclusion in the workplace.  

Our engineering future is exciting and fast paced and we will go far, together.  

Alison joined BAE Systems in 1984 and completed a technical apprenticeship and also graduated from Nottingham University with a degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering.  She then worked as a software engineer developing airborne code, including safety critical systems for a number of aircraft including the Experimental Aircraft Programme, Typhoon and Harrier.  Moving onto Ground Based Systems, she led the development of Pilot Training Simulators and other Typhoon Support Systems.  

Following involvement in export bids, she then undertook the role of Technical Manager, responsible for all Ground Based elements of the Typhoon Entry Into Service for Oman. An incredible privilege to work closely with the Omani Air Force.  

Her current role as Assistant Chief Engineer –F35 Sustainment provides the opportunity to work closely with our US and Worldwide Customers and support a worldwide fleet of above 3000 F-35 aircraft.  

“Women in Engineering pre-WW1”

Professor Graeme Gooday, University of Leeds

Dr Elizabeth Bruton, Science Museum

Dr Emily Rees, University of Leeds

This presentation will examine the history of women in engineering pre-World War One, focusing on how women took on engineering roles before opportunities were opened up more widely during the War. It will give an overview of the Electrifying Women project and focus on two case studies of eminent women in engineering before 1914: Hertha Ayrton and Lady Katharine Parsons.  

Graeme Gooday is professor of History of Science and Technology at the University of Leeds, having previously held postdoctoral posts at the University of Kent and Oxford. His current research focuses on the cultural history of electrical technology, especially relating the problematic advent of electric lighting, disputes over patenting, hearing loss, and auditory enhancement. He is the principal investigator on the Electrifying Women project.  

Elizabeth Bruton is Curator of Technology and Engineering at the Science Museum, London.  Previous roles include Heritage Officer at Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre, University of Manchester and Co-curator / Researcher for the “Harry’s Story: Henry Moseley, a scientist lost to war” HLF-funded project and exhibition, Museum of the History of Science, Oxford. She is the co-investigator on the Electrifying Women project.  

Emily Rees completed her PhD in film and television studies from the University of Nottingham in 2018. Her research focuses on domesticity, technology and gender. She is the research and engagement assistant for the Electrifying Women project.

‘Editing women engineers back onto the map’ – a presentation on the challenges of developing and delivering the WES Centenary Trail”

Ceryl Evans, Women’s Engineering Society

Helen Close, Women’s Engineering Society

In “Editing women engineers back onto the map” Ceryl and Helen will explore the background and challenges of developing and delivering the WES Centenary Trail, and what we hope will be its legacy.

Pilot Amy Johnson (WES President from 1933-4) and aeronautical engineer Beatrice Shilling, are the best known members of WES yet there are numerous others, including Caroline Haslett, Dorothée Pullinger and Margaret Partridge whose names, let alone their achievements, are not familiar beyond the small field of specialist interest. Our presentation will touch on some of the WES women in engineering who we have given an online profile to as part of the project, including Jeanie Dicks who secured the contract for the first electrification of Winchester Cathedral, and Monica Maurice became the first and, for an incredible 40 years, only woman member of the Association of Mining Electrical Engineers.

Our aim is to put these women in the most accessible of public knowledge platforms – Wikipedia – the fifth most visited website in the world – and become part of the campaign to improve Wikipedia’s gender balance of articles and editors, and improve the online visibility of the history of women in engineering (at time of writing only 18% of biographies on English language Wikipedia are about women, increased from 15% three years ago).

With a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, WES is working with partners, including IET Library and Archives, University of Leeds and the Wellcome Trust, to train women and men to edit Wikipedia and Wikidata, add and improve biographies of women engineers and pull those entries through onto an online map https://www.wes.org.uk/centenary-map using simple SPARQL queries.

Another key element of the project is publicising the individual histories of the women featured and WES shares their stories as widely as possible through events and particularly through daily posts on social media via @WESCentenary on Twitter and @wes_centenary on Instagram, using the hashtags #WES100 and #WomenInHistoryShouldntBeAMystery

Helen Close has a passion for Women’s history and has worked as a curator and project manager on a number of National Lottery Heritage Fund projects in the heritage sector. She is from a family of engineers, but like so many others “engineering wasn’t a career for girls”. She hopes that the WES Centenary Trail Project “will provide us with incredible role models from the past that will inspire girls and women to follow a path into engineering and help challenge the hidden negative messages which prevent girls from choosing engineering as a career”.

Ceryl developed the WES Centenary Trail. Previously Director of the Capability Brown Festival the first national project on historic landscapes, Ceryl holds MAs in Medieval History and Museums. Ceryl headed Museums and Culture for Hackney during the Olympics, has run a number of museums around the country and worked as a heritage consultant in the Middle East. She set up a museum of a pub and has curated collections from Ancient Egyptian archaeology to C21st art.