Women's Engineering Society

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Women's Engineering Society
Legal statusCharity
Coordinates51°53′46″N 0°12′09″W / 51.896062°N 0.202365°W / 51.896062; -0.202365Coordinates: 51°53′46″N 0°12′09″W / 51.896062°N 0.202365°W / 51.896062; -0.202365
United Kingdom
Current President
Dawn Childs
Elizabeth Donnelly, WES CEO, on the occasion of the unveiling of a Tunnel Boring Machine named after WES founder Rachel Parsons

The Women's Engineering Society is a United Kingdom professional learned society and networking body for women engineers, scientists and technologists. It was the first professional body set up for women working in all areas of engineering, predating the Society of Women Engineers by around 30 years.[1]


The society was formed on 23rd June 1919, after the First World War, during which many women had taken up roles in engineering to replace men who were involved in the military effort.[2][3] While it had been seen as necessary to bring women into engineering to fill the gap left by men joining the armed forces, the government, employers, and trades unions were against the continuing employment of women after the war. The Restoration of Pre-War Practices Act 1919 gave soldiers returning from World War I their pre-war jobs back and meant many women could no longer work in roles they were employed to fill during the war.[4]

This led a group of seven women, including Lady Katharine Parsons, her daughter Rachel Parsons, Lady Margaret Moir, Laura Annie Willson, Eleanor Shelley-Rolls; Janetta Mary Ornsby and Margaret Rowbotham to form the Women's Engineering Society, with the aim of enabling women to gain training, jobs and acceptance in engineering fields.[5][1][6][7] The Society's first Secretary was Caroline Haslett.[8]

Early members in the 1920s and 1930s included Verena Holmes, Hilda Lyon and Margaret Partridge.[1] Pilot and engineer, Amy Johnson, who was the first woman to fly solo from the United Kingdom to Australia, was a member of WES and served as president between 1935-37.[9] A registry of members from 1935 shows there were members from across the world, such as the United States of America, including sociologist and industrial engineer Lillian Gilbreth, and Germany, including Asta Hampe and Ilse Knot-ter Meer.[10]

The society celebrated its 95th year in 2014 with the launch of International Women in Engineering Day on 23 June 2014.[11] It celebrated its centenary in 2019 with the launch of the WES Centenary Trail, a project to highlight the historic stories of women engineers.[12]

Work and campaigns[edit]

Society members have advised the UK government on evolving employment practices for women. Constituted as a professional society with membership grades based on qualification and experience, the society promotes the study and practice of engineering and allied sciences among women.

WES is represented by groups. The work of the groups focuses on:

  • support to members and women engineers in general,
  • encouragement of women to study engineering and take up engineering careers,
  • promotion of corporate gender diversity,
  • speaking as the collective voice of women engineers.
The Woman Engineer
Publication details
Standard abbreviations
ISO 4Woman Eng.
OCLC no.964861124

The society produces the journal The Woman Engineer which was edited by Caroline Haslett in its early years.[13] The journal contained technical articles in its early years but now gives a view of work in engineering disciplines and women's involvement in them.[14] The digital archive of the journal is held by the Institution of Engineering and Technology.[13]

The Women's Engineering Society holds an annual conference, a student conference and regional workshops and networking events.

Outreach to schools[edit]

WES members volunteer in schools with the aim of inspiring girls to take up engineering and allied science careers. In 1969, President Verena Holmes left a legacy to fund an annual lecture to inspire school girls. Run by the Verena Holmes Trust, the first lecture tour was in 1969 during the first UK Women in Engineering Year.[15] It was delivered at various venues to children aged nine to eleven to encourage their interest in engineering, [16][17] The lectures were given by leading engineers with Mary Kendrick giving the lecture in 1981.[18]

Members provided the 'technical women power' for the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) buses that were launched following the WISE Year in 1984, an initiative that continued into the 1990s.

In 2014 WES set up an outreach programme called Magnificent Women (and their flying machines) which replicates the work that women did during the First World War in making aircraft wings, and this was aimed at secondary school girls.[19]

WES continue to undertake activities in schools through the UK STEM Ambassador scheme.[citation needed]


MentorSET is a mentoring scheme for engineers, inspired by the WES President Petra Gratton (née Godwin) in 2000.[20] The scheme was a collaborative project with national network of women scientists (AWISE). It was a mentoring scheme to help women in their career and to support them back into engineering after a career break. MentorSET has been funded by DTI, the UK Resource Centre for Women in SET, and BAE Systems. In 2015 the MentorSET programme was relaunched with funding from DECC, now BEIS and Women in Nuclear and is now relevant to women working in science and technology as well as engineering.


Members are drawn from women who have entered the profession through routes varying from traditional apprenticeship to higher education leading to graduate and further degrees. The participation of male engineers in the society is encouraged.

Current membership exceeds 1000 individuals and over 35 corporate and education partners.[citation needed]


Notable historical members[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Heald, Henrietta. (2020). Magnificent Women and Their Revolutionary Machines. Unbound. ISBN 978-1-78352-660-4. OCLC 1134535786.
  2. ^ Canel, Annie; Oldenziel, Ruth (2005). "Am I a Lady or an Engineer? The Origins of the Women's Engineering Society in Britain, 1918-1940". Crossing Boundaries, Building Bridges. Routledge. ISBN 9781135286811. Retrieved 27 November 2017.
  3. ^ Heald, Henrietta (2019). Magnificent women and their revolutionary machines. London. ISBN 978-1-78352-660-4. OCLC 1080083743.
  4. ^ "Changing role of women in wartime". BBC Bitesize: Domestic impact of war: society and culture. Retrieved 2020-06-24.
  5. ^ Women's Engineering Society. "The Woman Engineer". The Woman Engineer. 1 (1): 1.
  6. ^ Gooday, Graeme (2019-08-07). "Who launched the Women's Engineering Society in 1919?". Electrifying Women. Retrieved 2020-06-24.
  7. ^ Koerner, Emily Rees (2020-06-16). "Why the Women's Engineering Society still has its work cut out after 100 years". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2020-06-24.
  8. ^ "Archives Biographies: Dame Caroline Haslett". www.theiet.org. Retrieved 2020-06-24.
  9. ^ "History | Women's Engineering Society". www.wes.org.uk. Retrieved 2020-06-24.
  10. ^ Rees, Emily (2019-08-22). "Learning more from the archives: the Register of Women Engineers, 1935". Electrifying Women. Retrieved 2020-06-24.
  11. ^ "International Women in Engineering Day 2017". International Women in Engineering Day 2017. Women's Engineering Society. Retrieved 27 November 2017.
  12. ^ "WES Centenary Trail". Women's Engineering Society. 2020-03-04.
  13. ^ a b "The Woman Engineer Journal".
  14. ^ "Woman Engineer journal online exhibition". www.theiet.org. The IET. Retrieved 27 November 2017.
  15. ^ "The Verena Holmes Lecture Series | Women's Engineering Society". www.wes.org.uk. Retrieved 2018-06-18.
  16. ^ Women's Engineering Society: Role Models; accessed 24 February 2013]
  17. ^ Verena Holmes Lecture, wes.org.uk; accessed 22 June 2015.
  18. ^ Kendrick, Mary (1988-10-01). "The Thames barrier". Landscape and Urban Planning. Special Issue The Landscape of Water. 16 (1): 57–68. doi:10.1016/0169-2046(88)90034-5. ISSN 0169-2046.
  19. ^ "Magnificent Women". www.wes.org.uk. Women's Engineering Society. Retrieved 27 November 2017.
  20. ^ "Mentor SET". Mentor SET. Retrieved 27 November 2017.

External links[edit]