This post was written by the archivists and librarians of the EILC Engineering Institutions’ Librarians’ Committee. It has been cross-posted with the IMechE Archice and Library blog. It is part of a series of posts on the theme of Women’s History in the lead up to History Day 2018.

A chance for students and researchers to discover more about available research collections, History Day 2018 will feature a joint offering from IMechE, IET, IOM3 and The Aeronautical Society (The Engineering Institutions’ Librarians’ Committee). This year we are throwing a spotlight on our first female members and our membership holdings.

Founded in 1866, The Aeronautical Society of Great Britain (later The Royal Aeronautical Society) admitted women on an equal footing from the start – although classified as Associate Members they enjoyed the same terms and rules as Members. The first women to take advantage of this joined in 1874, Ethel Bourne aka the novelist Evelyn Burne. She used the pseudonym for writing because “I wish to remain unknown until I can write a book I consider sufficiently good to have my own name” (Bourne to Rupert Simms, 1892). By 1909 women could apply as full members.

Membership lists and early membership forms. The details recorded on these early forms are rather sparse, Amy Johnson’s merely records her address and qualifications. Other well-known female members include, Gertrude Bacon who popularised flying for women and also contributed to the fields of botany and astronomy. One of her many accolades is that she was the first woman in England to make a proper balloon ascent, in 1898.

Amy Johnson’s membership form

Another reasonably early adopter of female members was the Institution of Automotive Engineers (IAE). Established in 1905, Cleone de Heveningham Benest wrote asking if women can enter as Graduates in 1907. It was decided against but “that interested ladies could receive reports of Proceedings in the meantime” (IAE minutes, 1905-1907). In 1914 IAE Member Lucien Alphonse Legros put the matter before Council, arguing that women should be admitted. In the same year Dorothée Aurélie Marianne Pullinger applied as an Associate as the bye-laws stated a “person” could apply. However, on advice from the Royal Society it was advised that a person meant a man – Legros and Pullinger were duly refused. Another request, on the basis that women’s war work had altered things, was put forward internally in 1916 but it was again denied. Things changed in 1920, IAE accepted a request from Women’s Engineering Society (WES) to accept women. The first two to join were Benest and Pullinger, they were admitted in the same session in 1920.

IAE merged with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) in 1947. Until c1934 IAE Minutes list Members names – membership files also survived but these are not complete, they are normally detailed. The Institution of Locomotive Engineers (ILochE) also merged with IMechE (1969) but no female members have been found, all that remains of their membership records are index cards of names and subscription rates.

Dorothée Pullinger’s 2nd application to the Institution of Automobile Engineers

The IMechE was founded in 1847, the bye-laws explicitly excluded women. However, they changed their outlook in 1920 following the passage of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act. This specifically stated that sex or marital status could not be a bar to admission to any incorporated society and forbade Universities from regulating the admission of women. IMechE’s lawyer advised that “he, him and his” now had to read “he or she” in the bye-laws etc. He added that all other qualifications required for membership remained unchanged – a female applicant for membership would have to meet the same technical and educational standards as male applicants. It was presumably with this advice in mind that IMechE Minutes contain a footnote stating that the decision in December 1920 not to elect Miss Verena Holmes as a member “was made strictly on the merits of the case, and without prejudice on account of the candidate’s sex”. Holmes was elected in 1924, becoming the IMechE’s first female Member.

All of IMechE’s membership applications have survived, except for a very few of the earliest.  These early ones, for the first decade or so, only list names and nominators but later ones have full biographies. IMechE, IAE and ILochE membership data 1847-1938 are on Ancestry.

Verena Holmes

Both Pullinger and Holmes were active members of WES, whose records are now at The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET). WES was formed in 1919 by women who wanted to resist the pressure to leave engineering at the end of the First World War, and to promote engineering as a suitable profession for women. By 1918 almost 1 million women were working in engineering and munitions. Although it was shown that trained women performed extremely well, the 1919 Restoration of Pre-War Practices Act forced women to give up their jobs to men returning from military service. WES was active throughout the inter-war years, and was instrumental in mobilizing large numbers of women to enter engineering during the Second World War. It was able to take steps to ensure that female engineers were not subject to the same post-war pressures in 1945. IET’s first female Student, Graduate and Associate Member was Gertrude Entwisle (1916, 1919 and 1920). Their first female member was Hertha Ayrton, 1889.

The IET Archives holds records of its own women members, from Ayrton to the present day. They are also home to the archives of WES – their journal holds a lot of member information and is free online. Also of note, the papers of Dame Caroline Haslett (first women to be appointed to the British Electricity Authority) and the archive of the Electrical Association for Women (a consumer organisation founded in 1924 to encourage the use of electricity in the home).

Gertrude Entwisle

The Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3) was formed via a number of mergers that reach back to The Iron and Steel Institute, founded 1869. Their first female member can be found among these predecessor bodies, Georgina Elizabeth Kermode became a member of the Institute of Metals in 1916. She spent time living in Tasmania where she became deeply interested in the treatment of ores and foresaw the possibilities of electrolytic treatment. Kermode travelled to England to expand her knowledge, on her return to Tasmania she sought to develop the electrolytic zinc industry.

IOM3 have an index of members 1909-1921 and a members list for 1923 for the Institute of Metals (a predecessor body).


The National Aerospace Library
The Hub, Fowler Avenue
Farnborough Business Park
Hampshire, GU14 7JP
T: +44 (0)1252 701038 or +44 (0)1252 701060

Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Archive
1 Birdcage Walk
London, SW1H 9JJ
T: +44 (0)20 7973 1265

Institution of Engineering and Technology
Archive Centre
Savoy Hill House, 7-10 Savoy Hill
London, WC2R 0BU
T: +44 (0)20 7344 8407

Institute of Materials, Minerals & Mining, Archive
297 Euston Road
London, NW1 3AQ
T: +44 (0)20 7451 7360
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