Haslett, Caroline (1895–1957)

views updated

Haslett, Caroline (1895–1957)

British engineer and founder of the Women's Engineering Society. Name variations: Dame Caroline Haslett. Born Caroline Haslett on August 17, 1895, in Sussex, England; died on January 4, 1957; the eldest daughter of Robert Haslett (a railroad engineer) and Caroline Sarah (Holmes) Haslett; attended Haywards Heath High School, Sussex; never married; no children.

Caroline Haslett, a leader in opening the engineering industry to British women, was born in Sussex, England, in 1895, and raised in a modest though progressive home in Sussex. She left high school at the outbreak of World War I to take a clerical post in a boiler company, and while there decided to become an engineer. Requesting a transfer from the office to the plant, Haslett worked for the next five years to qualify first as a general, then as an electrical, engineer.

In 1919, Haslett became the secretary of the newly formed Women's Engineering Society, founded to encourage the "establishment of highly trained women in engineering." In addition to persuading employers that women had the aptitude to train for light engineering work, Haslett assured engineering institutions that much was to be gained by allowing women to join their ranks. She also founded and edited the society's journal The Woman Engineer. In 1924, when the society founded the Electrical Association for Women, Haslett became its director and editor of its organ Electrical Age. In addition to working to expand educational opportunities for women in the field,

Haslett increased her efforts to educate housewives in the advantages of electrical devices, and to encourage manufacturers to produce products for the home. By 1956, when Haslett left her post, the Electrical Association had grown from a one-room office to an organization with 90 branches and over 10,000 members.

During World War II, Haslett advised the British Ministry of Labor on women's training for industry. "She tramped through factories all over the country," reported Margaret Culkin Banning in Independent Woman, "talking to employers about their reaction to women in their plants, analyzing part-time work, putting up a fight for actual equal pay for equal work." Haslett also championed the admission of women to factory training programs on an equal basis with men, and the continued recruitment of women in the field even after the war. In a visit to the United States in 1941, she spent two months in New York studying the participation of American women in industry. She visited America again in 1944, under the auspices of the British Federation of Business and Profession Women, for which she served as president for several years. Among the ideas she took back to England for postwar use were "shelves that do not bump the head, less noisy vacuum cleaners and thermostats, more effective uses of plastics, glass, and nylon, and the Tennessee Valley Authority," which she called "the greatest piece of social engineering in the world." In 1945, she visited Sweden and Finland, where she again spoke out about the necessity of women doing their share in the postwar world.

Haslett, described by Helen Worden in the New York World Telegram as "tall and capable, with frank eyes and a friendly manner," served on the British Electrical Authority, a board formed to manage the nationalized electrical industry, as well as other government bodies. She was a member of the governing boards of several educational institutions, held membership in numerous engineering organizations, and was created a Dame of the British Empire (DBE) in 1947.


Rothe, Anna, ed. Current Biography. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1950.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts