Elsie MacGill during her CC&F years
|Born||27 March 1905
|Died||4 November 1980 (aged 75)
|Education||Master of Science in Engineering (aeronautics), University of Michigan (1929), doctoral studies at MIT in Cambridge (1932-1934).|
|Occupation||Aeronautical engineer, Aircraft designer, Human rights activist, Author|
|Title||"The Queen of the Hurricanes"|
|Spouse(s)||E. J. (Bill) Soulsby|
|Parent(s)||James Henry MacGill and Helen Gregory MacGill|
Elizabeth Muriel Gregory "Elsie" MacGill, OC (27 March 1905 – 4 November 1980), known as the "Queen of the Hurricanes", was the world's first female aircraft designer. She worked as an aeronautical engineer during the Second World War and did much to make Canada a powerhouse of aircraft construction during her years at Canadian Car and Foundry (CC&F) in Fort William, Ontario. After her work at CC&F she ran a successful consulting business. Between 1967–1970 she was a commissioner on the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada, published in 1970.
Early life and education
MacGill was born in Vancouver on 27 March 1905, daughter of James Henry MacGill, a prominent Vancouver lawyer, and Helen Gregory MacGill, British Columbia's first woman judge. Her mother was an advocate of women's suffrage and influenced her decision to study engineering. MacGill graduated from the University of Toronto in 1927, and was the first Canadian woman to earn a degree in electrical engineering.
Following graduation, she took a junior job with a firm in Pontiac, Michigan. While there, she began part-time graduate studies in aeronautical engineering at the University of Michigan, enrolling in the fall of 1927 in the full-time Master of Science in Engineering program to begin aircraft design work and conduct research and development in the University's new aeronautics facilities. In 1929, she became the first woman in North America, and likely the world, to be awarded a masters degree in aeronautical engineering.
Contracting polio just before her graduation, MacGill was told that she would probably spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair. She refused to accept that possibility, however, and learned to walk supported by two strong metal canes. She wrote magazine articles about aircraft and flying to help finance her doctoral studies at MIT in Cambridge.
In 1934, she started work at Fairchild Aircraft's operations in Montreal as an Assistant Engineer. In 1938, she was the first woman elected to corporate membership in the Engineering Institute of Canada.
Later that year she was hired as Chief Aeronautical Engineer at Canadian Car and Foundry (CC&F), becoming the first woman in the world to hold such a position. At CC&F she designed and tested a new training aircraft, the Maple Leaf Trainer II.
The Maple Leaf was designed and first built in CC&F's Ft. William (now Thunder Bay) factories, where she had moved. Although the Maple Leaf II did not enter service with any Commonwealth forces, ten (two were completed, but eight had to be assembled in Mexico) were sold to Mexico where its high-altitude performance was important given the many airfields from which it had to operate. Her role in the company changed when the factory was selected to build the Hawker Hurricane fighter aircraft for the Royal Air Force (RAF). The factory quickly expanded from about 500 workers to 4,500 by war's end, half of them women. For much of the war MacGill's primary task was to streamline operations in the production line as the factories rapidly expanded. MacGill was also responsible for designing solutions to allow the aircraft to operate during the winter, introducing de-icing controls and a system for fitting skis for landing on snow.
By the time the production line shut down in 1943, CC&F had produced over 1,400 Hurricanes. In 1940 she wrote a paper on the experience, Factors affecting mass production of aeroplanes. Her role in this successful production run made her famous, even to the point of a comic book being published in the United States about her, using her then-famous nickname, "Queen of the Hurricanes". Numerous popular stories were published about her in the media as well, reflecting the public's fascination with this female engineer.
After Hurricane production ended, CC&F looked for new work and secured with a contract from the US Navy to build Curtiss SB2C Helldivers. This production did not go nearly as smoothly, and a continual stream of minor changes from Curtiss-Wright (in turn demanded by the US Navy) meant that full-scale production took a long time to get started. In the midst of this project MacGill and the works manager, E. J. (Bill) Soulsby, were dismissed. It was initially rumored that Soulsby had been curt with a group of senior naval officers who had visited a week earlier, but it was later revealed the reason for the dismissals was that the two were having an affair.
MacGill and Soulsby were married in 1943 and moved to Toronto, where they set up an aeronautical consulting business. In 1946, she became the first woman to serve as Technical Advisor for ICAO, where she helped to draft International Air Worthiness regulations for the design and production of commercial aircraft. In 1947 she became the chairman of the United Nations Stress Analysis Committee, the first woman ever to chair a UN committee.
MacGill published a biography of her mother in 1955 entitled My Mother, the Judge: A Biography of Judge Helen Gregory MacGill. Her mother and grandmother's work in the suffrage movement inspired her to spend an increasing amount of time dealing with women's rights during the 1960s.
She served as the president of the Canadian Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs from 1962 to 1964. In 1967 she was named to the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada and co-authored the report published in 1970. She also filed a "Separate Statement" describing those of her opinions that differed from the majority on the Commission. For example, she wanted abortion removed from the entirety of the Criminal Code.
Upon entering the engineering profession:
|“||My presence in the University of Toronto's engineering classes in 1923 certainly turned a few heads.
Although I never learned to fly myself, I accompanied the pilots on all test flights – even the dangerous first flight – of any aircraft I worked on.
— Elsie MacGill, 1940, 
MacGill once said:
|“||I have received many engineering awards, but I hope I will also be remembered as an advocate for the rights of women and children.||”|
— Elsie MacGill, 
After a short illness, MacGill died on 4 November 1980 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In noting her death, Shirley Allen, a Canadian member of the Ninety-Nines organization of women aviators described her: "She had a brilliant mind and was recognized as an outstanding Canadian woman. Neither gender nor disability prevented her from using her talents to serve her community and country."
MacGill's paper, Factors Affecting the Mass Production of Aeroplanes, won the Gzowski Medal from the Engineering Institute of Canada in 1941. In March 1953 the American Society of Women Engineers made her an honorary member and named her "Woman Engineer of the Year," the first time that the Award had gone out of the United States. She was awarded the Centennial Medal by the Canadian government in 1967, the Ninety-Nines awarded her the Amelia Earhart Medal in 1975, and in 1979 the Ontario Association of Professional Engineers presented her with their gold medal. In 1983 she was inducted into Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame, and in 1992 she was a founding inductee in the Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame in Ottawa.
- Bourgeois-Doyle 2008, p. 64.
- Bourgeois-Doyle 2008, p. 87.
- Wakewich 2006, p. 396.
- "Elsie MacGill: Queen of the Hurricanes." CBC. Retrieved: 28 November 2010.
- "Elizabeth "Elsie" Gregory MacGill." Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved: 28 November 2010.
- Wakewich 2006, p. 397.
- Hatch 2006, p. 148.
- Saxberg, Kelly, Director. "Rosies of the North." Documentary National Film Board of Canada, 1999 via IMDb. Retrieved: 28 November 2010.
- Fraser, David. "Elizabeth Muriel Gregory MacGill." The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved: 28 November 2010.
- Morris, Cerise. "Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada." The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved: 28 November 2010.
- Wakewich 2006, p. 401.
- "Elizabeth "Elsie" MacGill 1905-1980." sciencetech.technomuses.ca. Retrieved: 28 November 2010.
- "Elizabeth "Elsie" Gregory MacGill." collectionscanada.ca. Retrieved: 28 November 2010.
- "Elsie MacGill." canadian99s.org. Retrieved: 28 November 2010.
- Wakewich 2006, p. 400.
- Bourgeois-Doyle, Richard I. Her Daughter the Engineer: The Life of Elsie Gregory MacGill. Ottawa: NRC Research Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-660-19813-2.
- Green, John J. "Obituary: Elizabeth (Elsie) Gregory MacGill, FC AS1, 1905-1980." Unpublished text from memorial service held Wednesday, 26 November 1980. University of Toronto Archives.
- Hatch, Sybil. Changing Our World: True Stories of Women Engineers. Reston, Virginia: American Society of Civil Engineers, 2006. ISBN 0-7844-0841-6.
- MacGill, E.M.G. "Factors affecting mass production of aeroplanes". Flight, v. 38, n. 1656, 19 September 1940, pp. 228–231.
- MacGill, E.M.G. My Mother, the Judge: A Biography of Judge Helen Gregory MacGill. Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1955; reprinted in 1981 by Toronto: PMA Books. ISBN 0-88778-210-8.
- Wakewich, Patricia. " 'Queen of the Hurricanes': Elsie Gregory MacGill, aeronautical engineer and women's advocate."in Cook, Sharon Anne, Lorna R. McLean and Kate O'Rourke, eds. Framing Our Past: Canadian Women's History in the Twentieth Century. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2006, First edition 2001. ISBN 978-0-7735-3159-8.
- Short profile of MacGill Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame
- Elsie MacGill - Queen of the Hurricanes from the CBC
- "Queen of the Hurricanes" from the Canada Science and Technology Museum
- Biography of MacGill and bibliography from Library and Archives Canada
- "Her Daughter the Engineer: The Life of Elsie Gregory MacGill by Richard I. Bourgeois-Doyle" from the National Research Council Canada Research Press Monographs Publishing Program
- Rosies of the North directed by Kelly Saxberg, National Film Board of Canada, 1999; a documentary about the Canadian Car and Foundry Company during the Second World War when Elsie MacGill was its chief engineer.
- Review of the NFB film Rosies of the North in CM, the magazine of the Manitoba Library Association.