Caroline Haslett c.1924, when she became director of the Electrical Association for Women
Caroline Harriet Haslett
17 August 1895
Worth, Sussex, England
|Died||4 January 1957 (aged 61)|
Bungay, Suffolk , England
|Occupation||Electrical engineer; business woman; educator|
|Known for||Feminism; electrifying the home to liberate women from domestic drudgery. She was the leading professional woman of her age.|
|Title||Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire|
She was the first secretary of the Women's Engineering Society and the founder and editor of its journal, The Woman Engineer. She was co-founder, alongside Laura Annie Willson and with the support of Margaret, Lady Moir, of the Electrical Association for Women, which pioneered such 'wonders', as they were described in contemporary magazines, as the All-Electric House in Bristol in 1935. She became the first director of the Electrical Association for Women in 1925. Her chief interest was in harnessing the benefits of electrical power to emancipate women from household chores, so that they could pursue their own ambitions outside the home. In the early 1920s, few houses had electric light or heating, let alone electrical appliances; the National Grid was not yet in existence.
'Way is being made by electricity for a higher order of women – women set free from drudgery, who have time for reflection; for self-respect. We are coming to an age when the spiritual and higher state of life will have freer development, and this is only possible when women are liberated from soul-destroying drudgery ... I want [every woman] to have leisure to acquaint herself more profoundly with the topics of the day.'— Caroline Haslett
Born in Worth (now part of Crawley, West Sussex), Caroline Haslett was the eldest daughter of Robert Haslett, a railway signal fitter and activist for the co-operative movement, and his wife, Caroline Sarah, formerly Holmes. After attending school in Haywards Heath, she undertook a business secretarial course in London, where she also joined the Suffragette movement. Through a contact of her mother's she took up employment with the Cochran boiler Company as a clerk and joined the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). Transferring to the Cochran workshops during World War I she acquired basic engineering training in London and in Annan, Dumfriesshire; from that time she became a pioneer for women in the electrical and professional world.
In June 1920 she helped to found Atalanta Ltd, an engineering firm for women.
In 1924 she was approached by Mrs Mabel Lucy Matthews about an idea she had to popularise the domestic use of electricity to lighten the burden on women. The Institution of Electrical Engineers and the Electrical Development Association had turned the proposal down, but Haslett saw its possibilities. She was very enthused by the concept and persuaded Lady Katharine Parsons, then president of WES, to host a meeting to discuss it.
In November 1924 she co-founded and became the first director of the Electrical Association for Women, of which she remained a director until 1956, when she was obliged to retire because of ill health; from 1924 to 1956 she edited The Electrical Age, the EAW's journal.
Haslett was a member of the Women's Provisional Club for Professional and Businesswomen (founded in 1924) alongside architect Gertrude Leverkus, Eleanor Rathbone, Dr Louisa Martindale and Lady Rhondda.
In 1925 the Women's Engineering Society came to national attention when it organised a special conference at Wembley, in association with the First International Conference of Women in Science, Industry and Commerce. The conference was opened by the Duchess of York (later Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother) and was chaired by Nancy, Lady Astor, the first woman to take her seat in the House of Commons. This event also introduced Caroline Haslett to a wider public. She remained secretary of WES until 1929, when she became honorary secretary, and she was the society's president from 1940 to 1941 (succeeding shipyard director Edith Mary Douglas, and succeeded by electrical engineer Gertrude Entwistle).
Haslett was the sole woman delegate to the World Power Conference in Berlin in 1930 and represented Britain at later power conferences. During the next 20 years her public activities were extraordinary, as described by her friend Margaret Partridge, electrical engineer and another president of WES: 'She was a member of council of the British Institute of Management 1946–54, of the Industrial Welfare Society, of the National Industrial Alliance, of the Administrative Staff College, and of King's College of Household and Social Science; a governor of the London School of Economics, of Queen Elizabeth College, and of Bedford College for Women; a member of the Central Committee on Women's Training and Employment; a member of council and vice-president of the Royal Society of Arts 1941–55; and president of the British Federation of Business and Professional Women. She was a member of the Women's Consultative Committee and the Advisory Council of the Appointments Department, Ministry of Labour; a member of the Correspondence Committee on Women's Work of the International Labour Office; and the first woman to be made a Companion of the Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE).'
In 1932 the National Safety First Association (the forerunner of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) extended its activities to home safety, and Caroline Haslett was appointed as chair of the Home Safety Committee, a post she held until 1936. She became the first woman vice-president of the association in 1937.
During the Second World War she was the only woman member (and the only safety expert) on the 20-person committee convened by the IEE to examine the requirements for electrical installations in post-war Britain, part of a larger scheme of Post-War Building Studies. An important part of those recommendations was a new plug and socket standard, the first requirement for which was To ensure the safety of young children it is of considerable importance that the contacts of the socket-outlet should be protected by shutters or other like means, or by the inherent design of the socket outlet. The result was BS 1363. The report also recommended the ring circuit system, which would become standard
Haslett became vice-president of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women in 1936 and president of the organisation in 1950; and she was the first woman to chair a government working party – the Board of Trade's Hosiery Industry Working Party 1945–46. For many years she was a member of the Royal Institute of International Affairs and the Royal Institution. She was appointed to Crawley New Town Development Corporation 1947–56; and served as vice-president (1948) and first female chairman (1953–54) of the British Electrical Development Association. She represented the UK government on business missions in the US, Canada and Scandinavia, and after the Second World War she took a leading role in conferences organised for women in Germany by the British and American authorities.
In Margaret Partridge's view, the crowning achievement of Haslett's multifaceted career occurred in 1947, when she was appointed a member of the British Electricity Authority (BEA), later the Central Electricity Authority, which was formed to run the industry under national ownership. In 1949 the BEA named one of the ships in its collier fleet Dame Caroline Haslett in honour of its first woman member. Haslett took a personal interest in the collier and its crew and her photograph hung in the officers' mess. For her Christmas card in 1952 she commissioned a drawing of the ship lying at the wharf off Battersea Power Station by Mrs JP Gibson whose drawing was so good that it was remarked that 'you could almost smell the mud!' The BEA set up the Caroline Haslett Trust to provide scholarships and travelling fellowships for its members.
Caroline Haslett's publications include
- The Electrical Handbook for Women (1934);
- Teach Yourself Household Electricity (in collaboration with E. E. Edwards, 1939);
- Munitions Girl, A Handbook for the Women of the Industrial Army (1942);
- Problems Have No Sex (1949).
She edited The EAW Electrical Handbook for the Electrical Association for Women, first published in 1934, which went into seven editions by 1961. She was also the author of numerous journal articles and conference papers.
In recognition of Haslett's services to women she was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1931, and in 1947, in recognition of her work for the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Labour, she was created a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. She was elected a Companion of the Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE) in 1932. From 1950 until her death she was a Justice of the Peace for the County of London.
She retired to live at the home of her sister (and biographer) Rosalind Messenger at Bungay, in Suffolk, where she died from a coronary thrombosis on 4 January 1957. In her will she requested that her body be cremated by electricity. This is understood to have been carried out at the City of London Crematorium.
Caroline Haslett Primary School in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, is also named after her.
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- "Post-War Building Studies No. 11 Electrical Installations", HMSO, London 1944
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