Claudia Parsons

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Claudia Parsons
Born15 August 1900
Died5 June 1998
Surrey, England
Alma materLoughborough University
Known forFirst woman to circumnavigate the world by car

Claudia Sydney Maia Parsons (15 August 1900 – 5 June 1998) was a British engineer, writer and traveller. One of the first three women to graduate as engineers in England,[1] she also wrote several books and was the first woman to circumnavigate the world by car.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Parsons was born in the Shimla hill station, British India in 1900 into an Anglo-Indian family.[3] Her father was in the Indian Army and her mother came from a family with generations of employment in the East India Company.[4] At the age of two Claudia and her older sister Betty were taken to Britain to be cared for by their grandmother and aunt in Guildford. Their mother returned to India and had a third daughter, Avis.[4]

Parsons attended Tormead School, an independent girls school in Surrey. She attended Guilford Technical Community College, where she completed a course on the auto-cycle engine. She read about the formation of the Women's Engineering Society, and went with her mother to meet the organisation's Secretary, Caroline Haslett, who alerted them about a technical course at Loughborough University.[1] During World War I, Loughborough had served as an instructional factory for the Ministry of Munitions.[5]

In 1919 Parsons enrolled on an automobile engineering course at Loughborough University.[3] She was one of four women, "lady engineers",[6] who were studying engineering out of three hundred students, and graduated in 1922.[1] Her fellow students were Dorothea Travers (one of the first women to be elected to the Institution of Automobile Engineers), Patience Erskine and the mechanical engineer Verena Holmes.[6] After graduation, Parsons was accepted as a probationary graduate of the Institution of Automobile Engineers.[7]


Parsons became a chauffeur-companion and drove clients across Europe, the Far East, India and America.[3] This included driving the American heiress Dolly Rodewald through Bosnian forests filled with howling wolves in a 1930 Ford A model in the middle of a huge snowstorm.[8]

In 1938 Parsons bought a Studebaker car in Delhi, nicknamed it Baker and drove with American anthropologist Kilton Stewart through Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine and Tunisia.[5]

She is recognised as being the first woman to circumnavigate the world in a car.[2]

Parsons was a member of the Women's Engineering Society and submitted a number of articles to the journal The Woman Engineer,[9] including 'What not to do when motoring abroad'.[10]

During World War II Parsons studied to become a munitions worker with Verena Holmes, and eventually worked as a machinist and a Munitions Factory inspector.[3][5] After being released from the Freeman's factory after she defended an employee, Parsons worked for the Ministry of Labour until 1949 during which time she wrote an analysis of the engineering trade as a training course for engineering officers.[6]


Parsons wrote a semi-autobiographical novel, Brighter Bondage in 1935. The Women's Engineering Society review of Brighter Bondage reads “so many of the adventures ring true that one is inclined to speculate as to which bits are purely imaginary. Certainly most of it is less improbable than many of the wild tales we have heard from her".[11]

An autobiography, Vagabondage followed in 1941.

This was followed by China Mending and Restoration (1963) based on her later career in china restoration. Her final autobiography, Century Story, was published in 1995.[3] Her cousin, the diplomat Sir Anthony Parsons wrote the introduction.[12]

Parsons never married, and when she was asked why she responded that men "very often threatened to stop me doing what I wanted to do".[13]


Claudia Parsons Lecture[edit]

Loughborough University has held a lecture in her honour annually since 2014.[14]

2014 - Maggie Aderin-Pocock[15]

2015 - Kate Bellingham[16]

2016 - Helen Czerski[17]

2017 - Emily Grossman[18]

2018 - Jess Wade[19]

2019 - Suzanne Imber[20]

Hall of Residence[edit]

Loughborough University has named a new hall of residence after Claudia Parsons, with the first intake of students in September 2019.[21][22]


  1. ^ a b c "Claudia and Verena: Loughborough's original lady engineers". Unbound. Archived from the original on 15 April 2018. Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  2. ^ a b "Claudia Parsons (1900–1998), First Woman to Circumnavigate the World by Car". Art UK. Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Claudia Parsons". Wonersh History Society. Archived from the original on 4 March 2020. Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  4. ^ a b LONSDALE, SARAH. (2020). REBEL WOMEN BETWEEN THE WARS : fearless writers and adventurers. [Place of publication not identified]: MANCHESTER UNIV Press. ISBN 1-5261-3711-9. OCLC 1134634316.
  5. ^ a b c "MAGNIFICENT WOMEN: Claudia Parsons" (PDF). Women's Engineering Society. Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 December 2021. Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  6. ^ a b c Parsons, Claudia (1995). Century Story. Sussex, England: The Book Guild. pp. 181, 188, 191. ISBN 1857760271.
  7. ^ "Post Magazine". Archived from the original on 10 June 2020. Retrieved 21 September 2019.
  8. ^ Lonsdale, Sarah (15 October 2020). "What we can learn from the trend-setting engineer who rebelled against society's limits for women". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 20 November 2020.
  9. ^ "The Woman Engineer". The Woman Engineer. s. 1-11, 15, 16, 18. Archived from the original on 9 December 2019. Retrieved 4 March 2019.
  10. ^ "What not to do when motoring abroad". The Woman Engineer. III (3): 39. June 1930. Archived from the original on 9 December 2019. Retrieved 4 March 2019.
  11. ^ "The Woman Engineer Vol 4 pg 77". Retrieved 20 November 2020.
  12. ^ Parsons, Claudia (1995). Century Story. The Book Guild. ISBN 1 85776 027 1.
  13. ^ "Welcome to Wonersh our village - Person Page". Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  14. ^ "Women In Automotive Engineering - National Women In Engineering Day". IET Engineering Communities. Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  15. ^ "News and events: The first Claudia Parson's Memorial Lecture". Loughborough University. January 2014. Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  16. ^ "TV presenter to talk 'Tech versus Talent in Tomorrow's World'". Loughborough University. 6 May 2015. Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  17. ^ "BBC presenter and physicist talks bubbles, the ocean and women working in STEM". Loughborough University. 26 April 2016. Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  18. ^ "Upcoming Events". Equality Challenge Unit. February 2017. Archived from the original on 17 June 2018. Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  19. ^ "Claudia Parsons Memorial Lecture 2018". Loughborough University. Archived from the original on 25 March 2018. Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  20. ^ "2019 | Dr Suzanne Imber - Claudia Parsons memorial lecture | Chemistry | Loughborough University". Archived from the original on 20 June 2019. Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  21. ^ "Pioneering female engineer honoured through hall name". Loughborough University. 19 June 2018. Retrieved 7 July 2018.
  22. ^ "Claudia Parsons | Accommodation | Loughborough University". Retrieved 20 June 2019.