Magnificent Women and their Revolutionary Machines

By Henrietta Heald

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The true story of Britain’s early women engineers

Publication date: September 2019
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Magnificent Women and their Revolutionary Machines explores one of the fascinating untold dramas of the 20th century – the true story of Britain’s early women engineers and their success in fanning the flames of a social revolution, as well as their achievements in science and technology. Many of these trailblazers have disappeared from history, but Magnificent Women will bring them back to life.

The drama centres on a group of remarkable individuals who in 1919 came together to create the Women’s Engineering Society. Their leaders were Katharine and Rachel Parsons, wife and daughter of the engineering genius Charles Parsons, and Caroline Haslett, a self-taught electrical engineer who campaigned to free women from domestic drudgery and became the most powerful professional woman of her age. These three protagonists and the other main players encountered hardships and joys during the First World War that shaped their intellectual and political views. Their intertwined stories and sometimes tempestuous relationships form the core of the book, but it includes an array of other colourful characters.

Drawn from across the social spectrum, the cast includes Eleanor Shelley-Rolls, sister of car magnate Charles Rolls; Viscountess Rhondda, a director of 33 companies who founded and edited the revolutionary Time and Tide magazine; and Laura Willson, a suffragette and labour rights activist from Halifax, who was twice imprisoned for her political activities.

This is not just the story of the women themselves, but also of the era in which they lived. Beginning at the moment when women in Britain were allowed to vote for the first time, and to stand for Parliament – and when several professions were opened up to them – Magnificent Women charts the changing attitudes towards women in society and in the workplace, and towards engineers in particular. In a penetrating final chapter that looks at the present and the future, it identifies what’s changed and what hasn’t, and sets out to inspire a new generation of female engineers to take up the challenge.

Elegantly written by acclaimed biographer Henrietta Heald, and beautifully illustrated with black-and-white archive photographs, Magnificent Women makes a fitting centenary tribute to a group of extraordinary female pioneers.

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