|Library and Archives|
The Online library catalogue will not be available to members between Monday 3rd March 2014 – Monday 24th March 2014 inclusive. A new improved library management system is being installed.
This upgrade will ensure efficient seaching and a better user experience, allowing users to find what they need, when they need it.
To request or renew books during this period please contact the Library enquiry desk:
Library tel: +44(0)20 7344 5461
More information concerning the new library system will be available shortly.
Edited: 12 March 2014 at 03:41 PM by Mike Dunne
Knovel is specifically focused on the engineering community. It is an interactive full-text database of scientific and engineering handbooks and references. It aggregates content from a variety of sources including well known publishers such as Elsevier, PennWell, Oxford University Press, Fairmont Press and Taylor & Francis.
The IET subscribes to 458 electronic full text books from Knovel.
To access the service:
Sign into the IET website and go to:
For further help:
See the attached Hints and tips for using Knovel
Go to Knovel's Support Centre
Edited: 12 February 2014 at 09:57 AM by Mike Dunne
||Hints and tips for using Knovel1.pdf (108 KB)
The IET's new Archive Centre is due to open to members and the public at the end of February. Visitors to the Archive Centre will need to arrange the timing of their visits in advance to allow time for the retrieval of collections from offsite storage (further details regarding visiting arrangements will appear on the library and archives pages of the IET website in due course). The core collections will be stored onsite with the remaining collections stored in a specialist facility in Oxfordshire - these collections will be retrieved as and when required for consultation by researchers.
The new Archive Centre comprises an archive office, where staff and researchers will be located, and a strongroom which will hold the IET's core collections including rare books and items temporarily retrieved from offsite storage.
The move of the archive office from its temporary home at Michael Faraday House in Stevenage is now complete and planning is underway for the transfer of the ‘permanent' collections into the strongroom at Savoy Hill House.
In the last days at the old home of the archives in Savoy Place three pictures of Savoy Hill House were discovered and given to the archives team. It is rather fitting that these three framed pictures now adorn the walls of the new Archive Centre in Savoy Hill House. The pictures, all taken from the same viewpoint, are reproduced below and show; Savoy Hill House in 1926 (a caption describes the picture as the BBC building from the time when the BBC was based at Savoy Hill House); again in 1949 showing the bomb damage to one corner of the building; and finally in 1966 with the bomb damage repaired and the corner of the building rebuilt.
Savoy Hill House - October 1926 (archive reference IET/SPE/1/19/1)
Savoy Hill House - January 1949 (archive reference IET/SPE/1/19/2)
Savoy Hill House - June 1966 (archive reference IET/SPE/1/19/3)
The Institution of Engineering and Technology
Need some help getting started with your research?
The IET library carries an impressive array of material from historic journals through to up-to-date articles, books and business reports on our Virtual Library. Having settled down in our new home-from-home at 1 Birdcage walk, we are now pleased to be able to offer one-to-one research sessions to our members of up to an hour in length.
During the session one of our librarians will provide you with a general overview of our digital and print resources, provide tips on search techniques and assist you in locating and accessing relevant material.
Whether you are conducting research for business, academia or personal interest we will be happy to help.
For further information, or to book a session please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 7344 5461
The library at One Birdcage Walk has recently acquired the following reference books:
Spon's mechanical and electrical services price book 2014.
DAVIS LANGDON ENGINEERING SERVICES
621(058) DAV REFERENCE
Library location: One Birdcage Walk
Providing detailed pricing information across the full range of mechanical and electrical services, together with higher-level costs for a diverse range of systems and different building applications.
To view some sample pages
Who's who 2014: an annual biographical dictionary.
A & C BLACK
Library location: One Birdcage Walk
92 A & C REFERENCE
"Who's Who 2014 is the 166th edition of the world's longest established and most comprehensive general reference book, brought right up to date for the year ahead. The first autobiographical reference book in the world and, after 166 years, still the most accurate and reliable resource for information supplied and checked by the entrants themselves".
Written by Alison Freeman
Edited: 14 January 2014 at 02:17 PM by Mike Dunne
All IET book sales are available through the following avenues:
Online: via the Resources section of our website
Telephone: +44 (0) 1438 767328
Fax: +44 (0) 1438 767375
The IET Library at One Birdcage Walk only sells the Fellows' and Members' ties.
Library early closure dates update for January and February 2014
These are the dates that have been provisionally booked as early closing in January and February 2014 :
09.01.14 IET/IMechE Trustees Meeting
15.01.14 Open Europe - TBC
16.01.14 LEK Consulting- TBC
20.01.14 Henry Jackson - TBC
22.01.14 FTN - TBC
03.02.14 IET - Board of Trustees Dinner
13.02.14 IET - IT Policy Panel
18.02.14 Conference Search - TBC
19.02.14 Trustee Department
26.02.14 IET - Energy Policy Panel - Dinner
27.02.14 EMHD Extravaganza Reception
The papers of Professor Brian P Smith, a former President of the Institution of Production Engineers (IProdE), have recently been deposited in the IET Archives. The Institution of Production Engineers was formed in 1921 and changed its name to the Institution of Manufacturing Engineers (IMfgE) just prior to its merger with the Institution of Electrical Engineers in 1991.
The IET Archives holds the archives of the IMfgE/IProdE, including a comprehensive set of organisational papers. These include a full set of Council, General Meeting and Committee minutes as well as presented papers for the whole 1921-1991 period. Despite this, the IET Archives holds very few personal papers of prominent members and individuals associated with the IMfgE/IProdE. The exception to this is a small collection of Presidents' papers from the period from 1979 to 1988 when the relevant individual was in office.
The offer of the Brian P Smith papers from the Smith family therefore came as a very welcome offer particularly as they cover not just the period that Brian P Smith was President of the IProdE (1974), but also his whole life. After serving a full apprenticeship at Royal Ordnance Factories from 1941-46, he was one of a small team which established a new tool industry in the Cumberland Development Area, and was its General Manager when he left to join PA Management Consultants Ltd in 1949. He was appointed PA's Director of Research in 1959 and became Managing Director of the UK company in 1966. He became Chairman of the UK company and Managing Director of the international company in 1972 and subsequently Director of Development of the international company.
In 1976 Brian P Smith resigned his permanent position with PA to become an Associate Consultant with them, and on 1 January 1977 became the first Wolfson Professor of Design Management at the Royal College of Art. In this role his aim was to bring closer together the worlds of industry and design, and to build their mutual understanding and respect. He was a member of the Design Council and served on its Finance and General Purposes Committee; he was nominated by the Duke of Edinburgh as Vice-President of the Royal Society of Arts in 1976.
Building on his training as an engineer, his interests in management were to analyse the less tangible aspects of leadership, communications, human behaviour and design. He believed that such subjects were susceptible to a scientific approach and to practical training and that they were at the root of organisation and management performance.
The deposited collection consists primarily of Smith's published papers / articles, and notes / hand-outs for the many talks and speeches on management that he gave during his lengthy career as Managing Director of PA Management Consultants. However, there is also a wealth of additional material about Smith's life including, his own book of verse, his leisure and travel diaries, his journal, images of his many paintings (examples shown below) and audio recordings of two of his speeches including his speech at an IProdE dinner in 1974. The journal and travel diaries are particularly interesting as they cover Smith's thoughts and musings on a very wide range of topics.
Correspondence with a wide variety of senior government members and officials, Buckingham Palace and well known individuals such as the actress Joanna Lumley, the American jazz music impresario Norman Granz and the journalist Bernard Levin can be found in the collection.
The collection is titled, 'Papers of Professor Brian P Smith', and has been catalogued as collection SC MSS 251. It can be consulted in the IET Archives once the new archive centre opens in early 2014.
Written by Jon Cable
Edited: 06 February 2014 at 01:17 PM by Library and Archives Moderator
The main group of papers are related to the North Metropolitan Electric Power Supply Company (Northmet). In addition to a copy of the document titled, 'North Metropolitan Electric Supply Acts 1900 to 1905', there are several interesting diagrams and maps. For example, there is a Northmet January 1907 plan of distributing mains in the Enfield District, and also a circa 1936 map with transmission lines and feeders in the Northmet area showing the lines leading from Willesden Power Station and Brimsdown Power Station. Another interesting item is a 1944 Northmet handbook supplement which includes public lighting maps.
The collection also includes 2 Northmet histories. One paper, written in July 1944 (supplemented in November 1946), marked private & confidential, is titled, 'Outline of the History of the Northmet Power Company', compiled by E T Kingbury and edited by Evelyn Boys. The second history is a contemporary account titled, 'Electricity Supplies in Essex - The First Half Century'.
One original document of wider interest perhaps is an original contract between British Insulated & Helsby Cables Ltd and North Metropolitan Electrical Power Distribution Company Ltd, dated 22 February 1907, relating to the installation of the Enfield Distribution System. British Insulated & Helsby Cables Ltd (BI&HC) was formed in 1902 from the merger of British Insulated Wire with the Telegraph Manufacturing Company of Helsby. In 1925 it was re-named British Insulated Cables Limited which after merging with Callenders of Erith in 1945 became British Insulated Callenders Cables Cables Ltd (BICC). A significant collection of BICC records is held by National Museums Liverpool.
The contract has the original signatures of two of the directors of BI&HC, Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti and Edmund Knowles Muspratt. Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti, the noted electrical engineer and inventor, was President of the Institution of Electrical Engineers in 1910 and 1911. Edmund Knowles Muspratt was an English industrialist who was a Fellow of the Institute of Chemistry and President of the Society of Chemical Industry in 1885/1886.
This collection of papers titled, 'the Vickers collection of North London electricity papers', has been catalogued as collection SC MSS 250 and can be consulted in the IET Archives once the new archive centre opens in early 2014. This new collection complements our existing collection of Northmet papers which is NAEST 170.
Written by Jon Cable.
Edited: 09 January 2014 at 02:36 PM by Mike Dunne
The IET Archives recently received a donation from the Calverley family of a small number of the papers of John Earnshaw Calverley and his son Thomas Earnshaw Calverley, who recently passed away and whose obituary appears on page 25 of IET Member News, November 2013. Both the father and the son were very successful and noted electrical engineers whose personal histories are also interwoven with the history of the Institution of Electrical Engineers.
John Calverley was the co-inventor of the transverter together with W E Highfield, and the papers deposited in the IET Archives consist primarily of correspondence and agreements related to the transverter and transverter related publications. The transverter was exhibited by English Electric at the British Empire Exhibition in 1924 and the majority of papers date from the 1910's and 1920's. Unexpected discoveries amongst John Calverley's papers were letters from John Somerville Highfield, who was the IEE President in 1921. William Eden Highfield was John Somerville Highfield's younger brother and together they had their own engineering consulting business. Despite W E Highfield being the co-inventor of the transverter with John Calverley, several of the letters in this collection, relating to the commercial arrangements concerning the transverter, were between John Calverley and J S Highfield.
The John Calverley papers also give an insight into commercial arrangements in the early 20th century between inventors and their employers when inventions were patented whilst working for those employers. In this case John Calverley and W E Highfield were both working for the company Dick Kerr and Company Ltd (taken over by English Electric in 1919), when they invented the transverter.
Thomas Calverley, John's son, was honoured in 1983 by the Royal Academy of Engineering as one of the UK's 1000 most eminent engineers, and he was closely involved with the IEE. He won the IEE's Salmon Scholarship for 1939-40, was awarded a premium in 1945 for his South Midlands Students' Section paper, 'electrical technique in resistance welding', became Chairman of the North Staffordshire Sub-Centre of the IEE in 1961-62 and was Vice President of the IEE between 1980 and 1984.
The deposited papers of Thomas Calverley relate mainly to his biographical history including career summaries, important career dates, CV's, and career/award correspondence. The career correspondence covers his time with various employers including Cavendish Laboratory, English Electric and Preece Cardew & Rider and records tributes paid to Thomas when leaving a particular company or retiring. For example there is a glowing personal letter to Thomas written to him by the 2nd Baron Nelson of Stafford, Chairman of English Electric/GEC from 1962 to 1983, dating from when Thomas left the company in 1970. This material also includes articles written by Thomas, photographs, details of his Chairmanship of CIGRE Study Committee 14: DC Links, and correspondence regarding the award of the IEEE's prestigious Uno Lamm HVDC Award.
The John Calverley papers have been catalogued as collection SC MSS 248 and the Thomas Calverley papers have been catalogued as collection SC MSS 249 and can be consulted in the IET Archives once the new archive centre opens in early 2014.
Written by Jon Cable.
Edited: 06 February 2014 at 01:19 PM by Library and Archives Moderator
Gertrude Lilian Entwisle, AMIEE, Hon. MWES, died on 18 November 1961 at the age of 69. She joined the Women's Engineering Society (WES) in 1919 on its formation and played a major part in its history. Gertrude was a member of the Council of WES from the outset until her retirement and she was President of WES from 1941 to 1943.
When Gertrude retired from Metropolitan-Vickers on 30 June 1954, a biography of her career printed in The Woman Engineer said that her retirement was, "the very first retirement in Great Britain of a woman who had a complete career in industry as an employed professional design engineer". The biography also told the story of how Gertrude came to work for Metropolitan-Vickers as;
"In 1915, the exigencies of the first World War caused Mr J S Peck, the Chief Engineer of British Westinghouse (as Metropolitan-Vickers then was) to write to the College of Technology in Manchester enquiring whether it knew of any lady engineers. After all, his firm had just successfully tried the tremendous experiment of employing an office girl so why should it not try to find some female technical staff? The Chief Engineer was an American and woman engineers already existed in the USA. The letter was handed by the Technical College to the Manchester High School for Girls who forwarded it to Gertrude Entwisle. Now Miss Entwisle had shaken the University of Manchester staff by attending the engineering lectures which were open to second year Physics undergraduates and so she decided to risk the British Westinghouse."
To read the full six page biography in The Woman Engineer the journal can be consulted in the IET Archives once the new archive centre opens in early 2014. The IET Archives holds the archives of WES (collection NAEST 92) which includes its journal. The 1954 biography contains several pictures of Gertrude and of motors designed by Gertrude. There is also a fascinating picture of Gertrude in 1914 (see below) as a member of the second year Honours Physics class at Manchester University which also shows the lecturers including Professor Sir Ernest Rutherford.
Gertrude is also an important figure in the history of the IET. In 1916 she became the first woman student member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers and by 1920 she was the first woman Associate Member of the IEE.
Written by Jon Cable
Edited: 06 February 2014 at 01:20 PM by Library and Archives Moderator
On Armistice Day it is perhaps appropriate to mention the records relating to World War 1 that are held in the IET Archives. The archives of the IET would possibly not spring to mind as a source of World War I material. However, in addition to honour rolls, the archives does hold, for example, personal papers of engineers which include recollections and material related to their experiences during World War 1.
The Institution of Electrical Engineer's Roll of Honour is not actually a roll but a memorial book, published in 1924, commemorating those members of the Institution who died during the First World War. The volume contains an introduction titled, 'the causes and origin of The Great War, 1914-1919'. There then follows an alphabetical list of biographies for those IEE members who died during the war which includes some photographs.
As part of the 2013 project between the IET and Ancestry.co.uk which involved the digitisation of the pre-1930 IEE membership lists, the IEE honour rolls from World War I and World War II were also digitised. These digital copies will be made available in 2014 for IET members to view for free via the Ancestry.com website.
An example of relevant personal papers can be seen with the papers of Harry Stephenson Ellis MIEE MIMechE (1881-1967) which is collection NAEST 155.
A series within these papers, NAEST 155/3, covers Harry's service in World War I. Harry became the City of Bradford's Chief Assistant Electrical Engineer in 1907 and was promoted to Deputy City Electrical Engineer and Manager of the Electricity Department in 1910. In 1912 he moved to South Shields to become the Borough Electrical Engineer, and during the First World War he served with No.3 Signals Section of the Durham Royal Engineers Volunteer Home Force. The 14 items in NAEST 155/3 cover Harry's attempts to serve overseas and his service with the Signals Company. Items include a printed letter from Neville Chamberlain, Director-General of National Service and future Prime Minister, to Ellis, and a photograph of the Signals Company which includes Ellis (see below).
Additional World War 1 material, whose presence might not be expected in the IET Archives, includes some records relating to the London Electrical Engineers (Territorial Army) which includes a photograph album with regimental pictures from 1915 and 1916.
The IET Archives' collections are currently closed to visitors while new facilities are being built, but they will re-open to members and researchers in early 2014.
Written by Jon Cable
Edited: 06 February 2014 at 01:29 PM by Library and Archives Moderator
Whilst there have been several smaller refurbishments over the decades of the IET's involvement with Savoy Place, this was the first complete move out of the building since the Institution of Electrical Engineers moved into the building over 100 years earlier in 1910. Perhaps unsurprisingly several items were found as a result of these searches and this is the story of two large volumes found in a basement cupboard at the back of a low shelf. These were the last two items found, on Friday 2 August 2013, before contractors moved into the building to begin strip-out work the following week.
Both volumes, in mixed condition, were trade catalogues for railway signalling equipment produced by German engineering companies between 1908 and 1910. These two catalogues were acquired at some point, perhaps directly, by Products Corporation Limited, Buchanan Buildings, EC1 which can be seen by the company's blue handstamps inside the volumes. Later the volumes were acquired by the IEE library as evidenced by library accession handstamps.
The earlier volume from 1908 (archive reference NAEST 045/439) is an A3-sized catalogue for the German company Maschinenfabrik Bruschal which was formerly called Schnabel & Henning and was founded in 1868. The catalogue, written in French, is targeted at the Swiss railway equipment market. The company, after several mergers, became fully owned by Siemens and Halske in 1941.
The later volume from 1910 (archive reference NAEST 045/440) is an A3-sized product book for the German company C Stahmer of Georgsmarienhutte which was founded in 1862. The company made railway and mining equipment and this book covers signalling equipment. The catalogue is in German. The company merged with Maschinenfabrik Bruschal in the 1914-18 period.
You can search for catalogue descriptions from deposited collections and IET records, in the IET's Archive online catalogue
Written by Jon Cable
Edited: 09 January 2014 at 02:22 PM by Mike Dunne
One of the more recent donations we received was from an author based in America:
Title: Extraordinary Women in Science and Medicine: four centuries of achievement
Authors: R K Smeltzer, R J Ruben, P Rose
This is a collection of papers on various women in the fields of physics, chemistry, astronomy, mathematics, computer and medical sciences. Some of the women covered include:
Augusta Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace 1815-1852
Hertha Ayrton 1854-1923
Elizabeth Fulhame fl. 1780-1794
Grace Murray Hopper 1906-1992
Florence Nightingale 1820-1910
Library shelf mark: 92:621.3 SME
The IET archives also has a useful research guide on Women in Engineering
If you have items you wish to donate to the Library please compose a list, with as much information as possible: title, author, edition, year of publication and ISBN if there is one and send it to email@example.com
We may already have the items in stock that you wish to donate, if that is the case we will send you a listing of other organisations and second-hand bookshops who may be interested in your books.
If you wish to donate books to the Library and would like to see if we already have any of them within our stock or if you are a member and would like to borrow any of these books or browse the Library catalogue go to www.theiet.org/library
IET Library and Archives
Written by Dawn White.
Edited: 31 October 2013 at 10:47 AM by Mike Dunne
W S Thomson, BEng, CEng, MIEE, became a Student member of the IEE in 1929 and a Graduate member in 1934, when he worked as a Research Assistant at GEC Witton, Birmingham. In 1938 he became a Member of the IEE and at the same time became an Applications Engineer for Alkaline Batteries Ltd of Redditch - he held this position and stayed as a Member of the IEE until 1972.
This brief biography helps to put the donation into context. Amongst the papers is W S Thomson's original typescript paper titled 'insulator testing and maintenance on live high tension lines' which he read before the South Midland Student Section of the Institution of Electrical Engineers at Birmingham, April 21 1936. This paper was awarded a Students Premium by the Council of the IEE but a copy was not held by either the IET Library or the IET Archives. The paper came with the original photographs and diagrams used in that paper, several of which relate to high tension lines in New Zealand from the early 1930's.
Another part of the donation was Thomson's unpublished typescript volume from 1977 titled, 'nickel-cadmium vented pocket-plate storage batteries'. The IET Archives holds a number of unpublished manuscripts from former members, which for one reason or another do not manage to reach the publication stage, but can be a valuable source of information for researchers.
If nickel-cadmium batteries hold a particular interest then the W S Thomson collection is now catalogued and can be found by searching the archives with the reference SC MSS 247.
Written by Jon Cable.
Edited: 18 October 2013 at 09:47 AM by Mike Dunne
Here we take a closer look at just one of the resources; the Engineering and IT Reference collection.
The Engineering and IT Reference collection is a collection of 450 ebooks that the Library and Archive subscribe to through Books24x7 (a SkillSoft company).
The topics covered by this service include:
aerospace; automation; electrical engineering; electronic engineering; mechanical ennerring; networks and protocols; software engineering and telecommunications.
To gain access:
Members need to log into the IET website.
Make your way to Books 24x7 web page
and click on the Books24x7 logo
You will now find yourself logged into a personal profile on Books24x7
Take a virtual tour of the service.
How do you get started?
You can start searching for subjects you are interested in the search box.The default setting is all content on the IET Reference collection. You can change this to all collections if you wish (that is all collections on Books 24x7, not what the IET subscribes to).
Perform a keyword search:
Use the Search box that is near the top of every page.
Or you can use the search form on the Advanced Search page.
See search tips for further search instruction.
Use the Browse Topics hierarchies:
The browse topics box is located in the right-hand margin of most pages.
You can also browse by four topics:
IT and Technical topics
Select a hierarchy, then drill down the topics to display a list of titles.
Topics expand by clicking the marker () to the left of the topic name in the hierarchy.
You can search through a specific topic by first selecting a main topic or sub-topic and then restricting your search using the "This Topic' search option.
For more information see the Books24x7help page.
Edited: 15 October 2013 at 04:20 PM by Mike Dunne
Based within the IMechE Library, we are providing a separate enquiry desk for queries from IET members, computer terminals with full access to the same range of electronic resources that we enjoyed at Savoy Place and a selection of books and journals focussing on the most up to date and frequently borrowed items. We will be continuing to offer the same overall range of services including postal loans, help with research enquiries and a document supply service.
However, there will be some changes of which users should be aware. As we are now sharing premises with the IMechE library, we only have a fraction of the space we had at Savoy place, and so a large proportion of our stock will now be held in off-site storage. We are putting procedures in place so that we are able to recall items from storage on demand to keep our entire collection accessible, but we will no longer have immediate access to all our holdings. This will obviously mean that it may take us a little longer to be able to send out postal loans and process document supply requests. If you wish to visit the library to view or borrow a specific item it is now highly advisable to contact us in advance to check availability and give us time to order items in if necessary.
As well as being a shared space, the IMechE library is somewhat smaller than our reading room at Savoy Place so please be aware that there there may be less desk space in which to work, especially at busy times. Finally, we will no longer be operating a bookshop selling IET publications. These can be purchased online We will continue to sell Members' and Fellows' Ties, but no other merchandise will be available.
In 2 years we expect to be moving back to a new, purpose built library area on the 3rd floor of Savoy Place. In the meantime, we welcome visitors to our temporary base at the IMechE. If you have any queries regarding the library move, or our services in general, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 020 7344 5461
Written by Ted Kemp
Edited: 30 July 2013 at 03:41 PM by Mike Dunne
All other book sales will continue as normal
Online: via the Resourcessection of our website
Telephone: +44 (0) 1438 767328
Fax: +44 (0) 1438 767375
From 1 June the only items for sale from the Library will be Fellows' ties and Members' ties.
Edited: 24 May 2013 at 03:24 PM by Mike Dunne
Due to the closure of Savoy Place for refurbishment, the Library Reading Room will be closed to visitors from Monday 1st July 2013.
Members will be able to drop off and collect books at Savoy Place through the Reading Room entrance until the closure of the building on the 19th July.
Library staff will also deliver items to the Appleton Centre on request.
Postal loans, access to the Virtual Library and research services will continue as normal, although there may be a delay in retrieving books while the collections are being packed and moved.
Please contact the Library Desk (email@example.com) if you are concerned about access to the collections during this period.
A Library Service will be operating at One Birdcage Walk from 22 July 2013. For more information, please see the website
Due to the removal of the collections from Savoy Place and the construction of a new Archives Centre in Savoy Hill House, the IET Archives collections and rare books will be closed to visiting researchers from Monday 10 June.
Enquiry services will continue to operate as normal, but there may be a delay to our usual response times as the collections are processed and moved off-site.
A new Archives Centre is planned to open in September 2013.
If you have any queries about accessing the Archives and Rare Books collections, please contact the Archives (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Edited: 22 May 2013 at 04:16 PM by Mike Dunne
The twentieth century saw rapid change in the rights of women to vote, have equal rights with men and to work. It might surprise you that the first woman to become a Member of the IET (then the Institution of Electrical Engineers) was elected as early as 1899.
That woman was Hertha Ayrton (1854-1923). Born Phoebe Sarah Marks, when she was in her teens a friend renamed her Hertha from a Swinburne poem. Hertha attended Girton College and Finsbury Technical College, where she met Professor William Ayrton. They married in 1885. Hertha was able to carry out her own scientific research thanks to a legacy from her friend and mentor Barbara Bodichon, which allowed her to employ a housekeeper. Her husband encouraged her to research the electric arc lamp after one of his own research papers was lost. As soon as Hertha's independent research began, William stopped his own research into that area as he was worried he would be credited with his wife's work.
It was for her research on 'The Hissing of the Electric Arc' that Hertha Ayrton was elected an IEE Member in May 1899. She was later proposed for Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1902: this application was turned down on the grounds that she was a married woman, and therefore had no status under the terms of the Royal Society's original charter.
Another pioneering member and woman engineer was Dame Caroline Haslett (1895-1957). Caroline Haslett joined the Cochrane Boiler Company in 1914, first as a secretary and later training as an engineer in the company works. In 1919, she left to become the first Secretary of the Women's Engineering Society and served as President in 1939. In 1924, Caroline Haslett co-founded the Women's Electrical Association, later renamed the Electrical Association for Women (EAW). Its aim was to lessen women's domestic burden by encouraging the use of electricity in the home. She was awarded a DBE in 1957.
Both women played an active role in encouraging equality. In 1914, a young Caroline Haslett was caught chalking 'Votes for Women' slogans outside the House of Commons. The policeman told her she was too young to be sent to prison and to 'be a good girl and get along home'. Her subsequent career focused on the rights of women in business and politics.
Hertha Ayrton was a member of the Women's Social and Political Union and in 1910 marched on Downing Street, but like Caroline Haslett she failed to be arrested. When she was accosted by a policeman, her daughter Barbara shouted, 'You dare not hurt that lady, she's Mrs Ayrton!' The police had been instructed not to arrest her and she went free. Barbara was not exempt, and after the 1912 demonstrations Ayrton wrote to a friend, 'Barbie is in Holloway ... I am very proud of her.'
For more information on women in engineering and technology, have a look at the resources on the IET Archives website, including exhibitions and biographies.
By Anne Locker, IET Archivist
IET Assistant Archivist
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