Women's Engineering Society

Last updated
Women's Engineering Society
Legal statusCharity
Coordinates 51°53′46″N0°12′09″W / 51.896062°N 0.202365°W / 51.896062; -0.202365 Coordinates: 51°53′46″N0°12′09″W / 51.896062°N 0.202365°W / 51.896062; -0.202365
United Kingdom
Current President
Dawn Childs
Website www.wes.org.uk
Elizabeth Donnelly, WES CEO, on the occasion of the unveiling of a Tunnel Boring Machine named after WES founder Rachel Parsons Elizabeth Donnelly, WES CEO.jpg
Elizabeth Donnelly, WES CEO, on the occasion of the unveiling of a Tunnel Boring Machine named after WES founder Rachel Parsons

The Women's Engineering Society is a United Kingdom professional learned society and networking body for women engineers, scientists and technologists. It was the first professional body set up for women working in all areas of engineering, predating the Society of Women Engineers by around 30 years. [1]



The society was formed on 23rd June 1919, after the First World War, during which many women had taken up roles in engineering to replace men who were involved in the military effort. [2] [3] While it had been seen as necessary to bring women into engineering to fill the gap left by men joining the armed forces, government, employers and trades unions were against the continuing employment of women after the war. The Restoration of Pre-War Practices Act 1919 gave soldiers returning from World War I their pre-war jobs back and meant many women could no longer work in roles they were employed to fill during the war. [4]

This led a group of seven women, Lady Katharine Parsons, her daughter Rachel Parsons, Lady Margaret Moir, Laura Annie Willson, Eleanor Shelley-Rolls; Janetta Mary Ornsby and Margaret Rowbotham to form the Women's Engineering Society, with the aim of enabling women to gain training, jobs and acceptance. [5] [1] [6] [7] The Society's first Secretary was Caroline Haslett. [8]

Early members in the 1920s and 1930s, included Verena Holmes, Hilda Lyon and Margaret Partridge. [1] Pilot and engineer, Amy Johnson, who was the first woman to fly solo from the United Kingdom to Australia, was a member of WES and served as president between 1935-37. [9] A registry of members from 1935 shows there were members from across the world, such as the United States of America, including sociologist and industrial engineer Lillian Gilbreth, and Germany, including Asta Hampe and Ilse Knot-ter Meer. [10]

The society celebrated its 95th year in 2014 with the launch of International Women in Engineering Day on 23 June 2014. [11] It celebrated its centenary in 2019 with the launch of the WES Centenary Trail, a project to highlight the historic stories of women engineers. [12]

Work and campaigns

Society members have advised the UK government on evolving employment practices for women. Constituted as a professional society with membership grades based on qualification and experience, the society promotes the study and practice of engineering and allied sciences among women.

WES is represented by groups. The work of the groups focuses on:


Members are drawn from women who have entered the profession through routes varying from traditional apprenticeship to higher education leading to graduate and further degrees. The participation of male engineers in the society is encouraged.

Current membership exceeds 1000 individuals and over 35 corporate and education partners.[ citation needed ]


Notable historical members

See also

Related Research Articles

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Mary Fergusson British engineer

Mary (Molly) Isolen Fergusson was a British civil engineer, the first female fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers, elected in 1957.

Verena Holmes English mechanical engineer and inventor (1889–1964)

Verena Winifred Holmes was an English mechanical engineer and multi-field inventor, the first woman member elected to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (1924) and the Institution of Locomotive Engineers (1931), and was a strong supporter of women in engineering. She was one of the early members of the Women's Engineering Society, and its president in 1931. She was the first practising engineer to serve as president of the society.

Peggy Hodges British engineer

Peggy Lilian Hodges was a British engineer who worked on guided missile technology at GEC Marconi.

Laura Annie Willson British engineer and suffragette

Laura Annie Willson MBE was an English engineer and suffragette, who was twice imprisoned for her political activities. She was one of the founding members of the Women's Engineering Society and was the first female member of the Federation of House Builders.

Margaret, Lady Moir Engineer and campaigner

Margaret, Lady Moir, OBE was a Scottish lathe operator, engineer, a workers' relief organiser, an employment campaigner, and a founder member of the Women's Engineering Society (WES). She went on to become vice-president and president of WES, and in 1934 president of the Electrical Association for Women (EAW), in which role she gave full expression to her belief that 'the dawn of the all-electric era' was at hand. She had no doubt about the importance of this development in freeing women to pursue careers outside the home:

'It is essential that women become electrically minded. By this I mean that they must not only familiarize themselves with electric washing machines, fires and cookers, but possess sufficient technical knowledge to enable them to repair fuses and make other minor adjustments. Only by doing so will women learn to value electricity's cheapness and utility, and regard it as a power to rescue them from all unnecessary household labours.'

Gertrude Lilian Entwisle British electrical engineer

Gertrude Lilian Entwisle was an electrical engineer. She was the first British woman to retire from a complete career in industry as a professional engineer; the first female engineer to work at British Westinghouse; and the first female student, graduate, and associate member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers. Entwisle was known for her work on designing DC motors and exciters. Her obituary said she broke "barriers of prejudice to become a respected designer of electrical rotating machinery."

Margaret Partridge Electrical engineer

Margaret Mary Partridge was an electrical engineer, contractor and founder member of the Women's Engineering Society (WES) and the Electrical Association for Women (EAW). Her business worked with WES to identify and employ female apprentices, including Beatrice Shilling. Partridge also helped campaign to change the International Labour Organisation convention on night work for women in 1934, after Shilling was found working on her own in a power station at night, thus contravening the existing regulations.

Claudia Sydney Maia Parsons was a British engineer, writer and traveller. One of the first three women to graduate as engineers in England, she also wrote several books and was the first woman to circumnavigate the world by car.

Isabel Helen HardwichMInstP was an English electrical engineer, an expert in photometry, and fellow and president of the Women's Engineering Society.

Annette Ashberry, also known as Anne Ashberry, was a British engineer, gardener and author, and the first woman elected to the Society of Engineers.

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Katharine Parsons Engineer, founder and second President of the Womens Engineering Society

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Mabel Lucy Matthews AIEE was a British electrical and production engineer, instigator of idea for the Electrical Association for Women.

Women have played a role in engineering in the United Kingdom for hundreds of years, despite the various societal barriers facing them. In the 18th and 19th century, there were few formal training opportunities for women to train as engineers and frequently women were introduced to engineering through family companies or their spouses. Some women did have more formal educations in the late 19th century and early 20th century, normally in mathematics or science subjects. There are several examples of women filing patents in the 19th century, including Sarah Guppy, Henrietta Vansittart and Hertha Ayrton.

Mary Kendrick British tidal engineer

Mary Patricia Kendrick MBE born Mary Patricia Boak was a British tidal engineer who was an expert on silt. She worked on many projects but she is known for leading a team working on the Thames Barrier. She broke a 200 year long list of Admirals who looked after keeping the River Mersey navigable when she appointed Acting Conservator of the River Mersey - a role that dates back to 1625.

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Cicely Thompson Nuclear power engineer

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Kathleen Mary Cook British mechanical engineer

Kathleen Mary Cook (1910–1971) was a mechanical engineer who was president of the Women's Engineering Society from 1955–1956. Her father, P. V. Cook, who was also a mechanical engineer, worked with the earliest aeroplane engines.


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