Laura Annie Willson

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Laura Annie Willson
Laura Annie Willson 2.jpg
Laura Anne Willson c.1925
Laura Annie Buckley

(1877-08-15)15 August 1877
Halifax, Yorkshire, England
Died17 April 1942(1942-04-17) (aged 64)
Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, England
OccupationEngineer, housebuilder, women's rights campaigner
Spouse(s)George Henry Willson
ChildrenGeorge William, Kathleen Vega
AwardsMember of the Order of the British Empire (MBE)

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[edit]

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.[1] 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.[2]

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.[3][4] She was also a secretary of the Halifax branch of the Women's Social and Political Union which formed in January 1906.[5]

In 1907, she was imprisoned for her behaviour after taking part in a weavers' strike and a few weeks later she was arrested with dozens of others after demonstrating for the suffragettes at Caxton Hall.[6][7] She claimed to be the first suffragette to be placed in a Yorkshire jail.[3]

During the First World War, she was manager of the women's section of her husband's lathe-making factory, for which she was awarded an MBE in 1918.[4]

Engineering career[edit]

Advert for Laura Annie Willson houses in Jumples

In 1919, she co-founded the Women's Engineering Society (WES) with Rachel Parsons, Margaret, Lady Moir and others.[8] 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.[9]

She became the first woman member of the Federation of House Builders,[10] constructing 72 houses for workers in Halifax in 1925–26.[4] She was a founding member of the Electrical Association for Women in 1924, alongside Caroline Haslett;[1] this interest was reflected in her housing estates which had the latest gas and electricity appliances.[10] In 1927, having moved to Surrey from Halifax with her husband, Willson continued her trade as a builder by purchasing land at Englefield Green.[11]


  1. ^ a b "Willson, Laura Ann". Historic England.
  2. ^ Hobbs, Sandy; McKechnie, Jim; Lavalette, Michael (1 January 1999). Child Labor: A World History Companion. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9780874369564.
  3. ^ a b Liddington, Jill (3 September 2015). Rebel Girls: How votes for women changed Edwardian lives. Little, Brown Book Group. ISBN 9780349007816.
  4. ^ a b c Law, Cheryl (1 January 2000). Women, A Modern Political Dictionary. I.B.Tauris. ISBN 9781860645020.
  5. ^ Crawford, Elizabeth (15 December 2016). The Women's Suffrage Movement in Britain and Ireland: A Regional Survey. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 9780415383325.
  6. ^ "Laura Annie Willson MBE: suffragette and house-builder". Unbound. Retrieved 17 April 2019.
  7. ^ "Roll of Honour of Suffragette Prisoners 1905–1914". National Archives. Retrieved 14 October 2016.
  8. ^ Law, Cheryl (22 April 2000). Suffrage and Power: The Women's Movement 1918–1928. I.B.Tauris. ISBN 9781860644788.
  9. ^ "Presidents Past & Present | Women's Engineering Society". Retrieved 15 December 2016.
  10. ^ a b England, Historic. "Architects, Builders and Garden Cities | Historic England". Retrieved 15 December 2016.
  11. ^ "News - Exploring Surrey's Past". Retrieved 15 December 2016.