Verena Holmes

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Verena Winifred Holmes (23 June 1889–20 February 1964) was an English mechanical engineer and inventor, the first woman member elected to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (1924), and a strong supporter of women in engineering. She was one of the founding members of the Women's Engineering Society in 1919.[1]

She was born at Highworth, Ashford, Kent, the daughter of Edmond Gore Alexander Holmes and Florence Mary Holmes. Having wanted to be an engineer since childhood, Holmes gained employment building wooden propellers at the Integral Propeller Company, Hendon, after graduation from Oxford High School for Girls. She took night classes at the Shoreditch Technical Institute and attended a technical college in Lincoln; she served as an apprentice form-fitter and drafter before graduation from Loughborough Engineering College in 1922 with a BSc(Eng) degree. Her technical specialties included marine and locomotive engines, diesel engines, and internal combustion engines. She became an associate member of the Institution of Marine Engineers in 1924, and was admitted to the Institution of Locomotive Engineers in 1931.[2]

She was employed by Research Engineers Ltd from 1932 to 1939, during which time she developed and patented many inventions, including the Holmes and Wingfield pneumo-thorax apparatus for treating patients with tuberculosis, a surgeon's headlamp, a poppet valve for steam locomotives, and rotary valves for internal combustion engines. She held patents for 12 inventions for medical devices as well as engine components.

During World War II she worked on naval weaponry and trained women for munitions work. She was appointed headquarters technical officer with the Ministry of Labour (1940-1944). She was heavily involved in encouraging and supporting women in engineering; she was a founding member, together with Caroline Haslett and Claudia Parsons, of the Women's Engineering Society in 1919. She served the society in several capacities, including president in 1930 and 1931. Her work in support of women in engineering was based partly upon her own experiences; although she had been admitted to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers as an associate member in 1924, it took twenty years for her to be admitted as a full member. She founded the engineering firm of Holmes and Leather in 1946, which employed only women. In 1958, she published a booklet, Training and Opportunities for Women in Engineering.[3]

The Women's Engineering Society continues to support the yearly Verena Holmes lecture, given at various venues across Britain to children aged 9 to 11 to encourage interest in engineering.[4]

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