IET Archives: Women in engineering

Black and white photograph of women engineers taken from the Evershed and Vignoles collection NAEST 102. The caption under the photograh read 'The MEG insulation tester is used for testing electrical circuits on planes (part of Evershed's contribution to the Royal Air Force)'  Engineering and technical roles have traditionally been the domain of men. However, this began to change during World War I when women were given the opportunity to train, use their skills and gain employment in engineering disciplines.

Just after the War a need to assist women in their new found employment arose and The Women's Engineering Society (WES) was formed in 1919. Its aims were to promote the study and practice of engineering among women and to enable technical women to meet and to facilitate the exchange of ideas. Since its foundation the Women's Engineering Society has been inspiring women as engineers, scientists and technical leaders. It is still very active today.

Acceptance has not come easily and women engineers in the last century had two problems: first, the struggle to gain training, jobs and recognition and second, how to use engineering to lighten women's domestic burden.

The Electrical Association for Women (EAW) was formed in 1924 to encourage women to be consumers of electricity aiming to give women in the home knowledge about electrical apparatus. It acted as a vehicle for the education of lay women about electricity and as an advisory body to the industry on matters of policy, asserting the need for safe and practical appliances in the home to reduce the burden of women's domestic work. 

Archive collections relating to women in engineering

The records from both the WES and the EAW are held in the IET Archives and cover their foundation, minutes, membership records, correspondence, photographs, publications, press coverage and audio visual material. The papers of Caroline Haslett, WES President and co-founder of the EAW, offer a unique insight into her involvement in the development of the use of electricity in the home, post-war reconstruction, policy work, her travels abroad and her role as a stateswoman. 

The Women's Engineering Society has produced a journal since 1919, The Woman Engineer. This can be accessed at the IET Archives but also online as it has been digitised using page-turning software. The journals contain a wealth of knowledge not only of women in engineering but also social history covering the journey of engineering, employment issues, gender studies and innovation, amongst many others, in the UK since World War I. To access the digitised journal please see the Women in engineering online exhibition.

The IET Archives also holds the papers of the International Conference of Women Engineers and Scientists (ICWES), from 1964-1999. 

Original material

For original material in our collections please refer to the research guide and search our catalogue.

Online resources and related links

Links to other websites