I’ve got a pretty busy Autumn coming up and so hadn’t planned to take part in a blog tour, but as a female Chartered Engineer I couldn’t resist the opportunity to review Magnificent Women and their Revolutionary Machines, by Henrietta Heald. This book is being published in the centenary year of the Women’s Engineering Society, and tells the stories of many amazing and pioneering women. And when I say stories, I mean stories. This isn’t a dry tome listing the accomplishments of the great and the good – it’s a narrative biography set against a social revolution.
The central characters in our cast of magnificent women are Rachel Parsons, who effectively came from engineering royalty, a wealthy family with a rich heritage of scientific endeavour; and Caroline Haslett who came from much humbler beginnings but became perhaps the pre-eminent woman in electrical engineering in the 20th century.
The formation of the Women’s Engineering Society happened at a time of enormous social change and one that caused conflicting feelings for women. On one hand (some) women had just got the right to vote for the first time, but on the other, many women who had had interesting and varied jobs during World War One were being asked to return to domestic lives as men returned from the war. The prompt to create the WES was a proposed post-war bill outlawing the employment of women in engineering. Outraged by this, Rachel Parsons and her mother Katherine brought together a group of women to be a ‘fighting force’ that could become as powerful as the men’s unions had been. Along with the founders, former suffragette Caroline Haslett became the WES’ secretary. Thus their entwined stories begin, but as Heald leads us through the 20th century, we see that for one of the pair their career goes to greater heights and for the other their career sadly fades and ultimately their life ends in tragedy. This book is skilfully done and reads both easily and beautifully. It’s the story of two hugely influential women to whom I owe a great deal and of whom I’m ashamed to say I knew very little. I’m grateful this book came along so that I could find out more.
Magnificent Women and their Revolutionary Machines by Henrietta Heald is published on 19th September, £20. I received a free copy in return for an honest review. Please do visit the other brilliant blogs on this tour, as shown below.