This year is the year that the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) turns 100 years old, and through the support of National Lottery players WES will be celebrating and commemorating women engineers who have been involved with WES over the past century, through a £66,800 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. WES’ most famous member was pilot Amy Johnson, however hers is just one of hundreds of stories waiting to be told about ground-breaking women working in the varied fields of engineering.
The names of these incredible women rarely feature in the history books or on the internet, but they should be included to give a more complete history of the world.
The WES Centenary Trail aims to change this by creating an interactive online map recording and sharing the history of WES and its members with a wider public. The trail seeks to build an audience for local and women’s history connected with new and improved Wikipedia entries, based on research into WES and other archives. Currently, only 17.7% of biographies written in English are about women, and a very small number of those entries are about women engineers.
The Wikipedia entries will be generated by volunteers, trained and engaged through Wikithons around the country and entries will be pulled through to populate the map on the WES website with up to 200 pins to explore by the end of the project.
WES and our supporters will share these new and improved histories through local events, displays, and social media. Family audiences will be engaged through a Lottie Doll tour of the WES Centenary Trail, aimed at encouraging families to think of engineering and its heritage as subjects just as interesting for girls as they are for boys.
A recent piece of research, undertaken as a pilot test for the project, revealed the story of Jeanie Dicks, who undertook the electrification of Winchester Cathedral in 1934, garnering much contemporary press interest in the novelty of a women taking on such a role. As a result, Jeanie now has her own Wikipedia page, as does Elizabeth M. Kennedy, WES’ President in 1932-4, who rose from a shorthand typist to become Managing Director of a large machine manufacturing firm, frequently travelling around America on business in the 1920s. We are planning to research and share a whole host of other women’s lives and career stories over the next 18 months.
Eleanor Hill has been appointed as the Centenary Trail Project Officer and joined WES in late October. Eleanor has a wealth of experience in heritage and community projects, most recently project managing the Heritage Lottery funded ‘Our Heritage’ Canari project for the charity Disability Can Do.
Elizabeth Donnelly, CEO of the Women's Engineering Society said: "We are delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund has supported the WES Centenary Trail project thanks to National Lottery players. WES has a fascinating history and the achievement of the women engineers, past and present, needs to be shared and celebrated. WES has helped and supported women to become and remain engineers for 100 years. Recent research indicates that even today only a quarter of 16-19 year old girls say they would ever consider a career in engineering. We hope that by showing some of the fascinating lives and careers led by WES members over the past century that we can encourage more families to think of engineering as a suitable career for their daughters.”
Robyn Llewellyn, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund said: “Thanks to National Lottery players we are thrilled to support this exciting project which will raise awareness and celebrate the significant contribution that women have made to the development of engineering. The project has the potential to inspire the future generation.”
The WES Centenary Trail project is supported by Royal Holloway (University of London), University of the West of Scotland, University of Leeds, Heritage Open Days, the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) Libraries and Archives, Lottie Dolls (Arklu), Brooklands Museum, Wikimedia UK and the Wellcome Trust.