Miss All-Alone: How Engineer and Dame Caroline Haslett Changed STEM for Women
Engineers have existed since humankind invented the wheel, though early engineers don’t get a lot of attention. Minus a few very famous names made more famous by movies, a Google search of “famous engineers” reveals a host of names that are nearly unrecognizable to the layperson.
Still lesser known are the famous female engineers among them. And, though women still remain underrepresented in STEM fields, they’ve long been contributors. Take, for example, Caroline Haslett, an early engineer who, in many ways, opened the industry to women after experiencing dissatisfaction with domestic tasks.
Image courtesy of The Institute of Engineering and Technology
Born in 1895 in Worth, Sussex, to a father who worked as a signal engineer for the railway, Caroline Haslett was the second of five children. In her youth, she considered herself an amaeur botonist and showed an early affinity for tools, though she learned office skills in college.
Though her father eventually came around, he initially resisted her success with the Cochran Company, which she joined in 1914. There, she acquired training in basic engineering and was placed in charge of the company’s London office and sent to Scotland to study engineering after proving herself a worthy scholar and innovative mind.
A Series of Firsts
Image courtesy of Flickr by Zeromonk
By 1919, Haslett was the first secretary of the Women’s Engineering Society, where she also edited the society’s magazine, called The Woman Engineer. She used the magazine to determine what electrical appliances were most needed in the home, and by 1941, she was the society’s president. In between, she also served as the first director and co-founder of the Electrical Association for Women, which published books and magazines that sought to educate women about electricity, electrical safety, lighting installation, etc. Haslett was also chairman of the Council of Scientific Management in the Home.
From 1946 until 1954, Haslett was the only female member of the Council of the British Institute of Management, and from 1953 to 1954, she was chairman of the British Electrical Development Association—the first woman ever appointed to the office. She was also the only female member of the British Electricity Authority from 1947 to 1956. To recognize her service, she was made a commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1931 and, in 1947, promoted to dame commander. Haslett was an IEE companion in 1932 and JP for the County of London. She served as the president of the British Federation of Business and Professional Women and the president of the International Federation. In 1952, a white iris was even named for her.
Eventually, Caroline Haslett’s achievements took her around the world. She traveled Europe, the Middle East, Canada, and the United States at the request of the British and U.S. governments, working on behalf of the Hosiery Working Party and as an honorary adviser on women’s training to the Ministry of Labour.
Freedom Through Electricity
Image courtesy of Womanthology.
Haslett was interested in electricity for a lot of reasons, and among them was the desire to free women in various ways from a more traditional life. While her work continues to empower women to pursue careers in STEM, she originally sought to free them from the bonds of housework by providing appliances that would lessen their load.
In 1925, Haslett was featured in an article in the Westminster Gazette, titled “Miss All-Alone.” And while she made have been something of an anomaly, Haslett’s work paved the way for women in STEM throughout history—she’s pictured above with President Truman.
After a long life of paving the way for women in STEM, Haslett died in 1957 after a short illness. Even years after, though we have made substantial improvements in STEM diversity, women are still underrepresented in these fields. Haslett and those who followed her strong example made enormous dents in STEM’s glass ceiling, but it’s time for you to fully change industry and be a true engineering icon. Get your first foothold by trying Autodesk’s EAGLE software for free today!