Women in Engineering

Celebrating International Women In Engineering Day

On 23rd June it will be International Women in Engineering Day. We thought we’d celebrate by profiling some of the greatest British women in engineering history. They are an inspiration to us all!

Sarah Guppy (1770-1852)

When thinking of the great bridge-builders of the 19th century, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Thomas Telford may spring to mind but an important contemporary of theirs was Sarah Guppy.  Born in Birmingham in 1770, Guppy patented revolutionary designs for safe pilings for suspension bridges.  Her designs were used under patent by Telford and she worked closely with Brunel providing technical support for the development of the Great Western Railway.  Rather tellingly she once said, “it is unpleasant to speak of oneself—it may seem boastful particularly in a woman.”  Unfortunately, almost 200 years on it is a sentiment that many still share.

Victoria Drummond (1894–1978)

Few women have made the transition from debutante to renowned engineer, and especially not in the first decades of the twentieth century.  Victoria Drummond rejected the comfortable life of the upper-class lady to pursue a truly extraordinary career as a marine engineer, earning bravery awards whilst serving at sea during World War II.  She was the first female member of the Institute of Marine Engineers and over her 40 years at sea established great respect from her fellow crew members and paved the way for women’s acceptance into both engineering roles and the armed forces.

Constance Tipper (1894-1995)

Constance Tipper was a metallurgist and crystallographer who was one of the greatest material scientists of her time.  She became the first full-time faculty member of the Engineering Department of the University of Cambridge.  She came to prominence through her research surrounding brittle fracture of metals.  This research became vital when she was brought in to investigate the fractures occurring in US-built Liberty Ships during World War II.  She established that the fault was not due to welding, as previously believed, but instead was due to the inherent properties of steel.

Beatrice Shilling (1909-1990)

The daughter of a butcher, Beatrice Shilling developed an unusual obsession for motorsports for someone of her class and gender.  After buying a motorbike at the age of 14, a career in engineering was decided upon.  After an electrical engineering degree at the University of Manchester, Shilling joined the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough where she worked her entire life. 

During World War II she devised an ingenious device to prevent a fault in fighter aircraft causing planes to stall when diving which became known as ‘Miss Shilling’s orifice’.  As well as being a very respected aerospace engineer, her passion for motorbikes continued and she beat many professional riders during the 1930s.  She was awarded the Gold Star for completing a lap of the Brooklands circuit at 106mph on her Norton M30.

Find out more about the events happening for International Women in Engineering Day.