Laura Annie Willson
Laura Annie Willson MBE (1877–1942) was a British engineer and suffragette, who was twice imprisoned for her political activities. She was one of the founding members of the Women's Engineering Society and was the first female member of the Federation of House Builders.
Early life and factory career
Laura Annie Buckley was born in Halifax, Yorkshire, in 1877. She started work at the age of ten as a 'half-timer' in a local textile factory. Half time in factories was introduced to spare children from working a full day; instead they worked half the day and spent the rest of the time at school, which was often built within the factory compound.
When she married George Henry Willson in 1899, Laura Annie was described as a worsted coating weaver. Her husband was a maker of machine tools who established a successful engineering works in Halifax, which Laura Annie would help to run.
She became strongly involved in the Trade Union movement, becoming branch secretary of the Women's Labour League in Halifax in 1907. She was also a secretary of the Halifax branch of the Women's Social and Political Union which formed in January 1906.
In 1919, she co-founded the Women's Engineering Society (WES) with Rachel Parsons, Margaret, Lady Moir and others. The aim of WES was to protect the positions that women had gained in industry during the First World War, and to promote equal opportunities for women in engineering. She was president of WES from 1926 to 1928.
She also became the first woman member of the Federation of House Builders, constructing 72 houses for workers in Halifax in 1925–26. She was a founding member of the Electrical Association for Women in 1924, alongside Caroline Haslett; this interest was reflected in her housing estates which had the latest gas and electricity appliances. In 1927, having moved to Surrey from Halifax with her husband, Willson continued her trade as a builder by purchasing land at Englefield Green.
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