Records of the Women's Engineering Society: papers of Ira Rischowski

Archive Collection
  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 106 6WES
  • Dates of Creation
      1939-1988
  • Language of Material
      English , French , German , Greek .
  • Physical Description
      8 A boxes
  • Direct Link

Scope and Content

The archive consists of memorandum and articles of association (1946; 1969), Council papers (1943-1988), Sub-committees papers (1949-1964), Conferences (1948-1984), London Branch papers (1957-1984), bound copies of Membership lists (1963-1983), General Papers (1939-1983), Press releases and press cuttings (1949-c.1975) and Publications (1955-1986).

Administrative / Biographical History

The Women's Engineering Society (WES) (1919-) was founded in 1919 and largely financed by Lady Margaret Eliza Parsons, who acted as its first President while Dame Caroline Haslett served as first General Secretary between 1919 and 1929. Lady Moir acted as President between 1928 and 1930, followed by Verena Holmes between 1930 and 1932, Amy Johnson (1934-1937) and Caroline Haslett (1939-1941). The WES emerged from the Engineering Committee of the National Council of Women. This had been set up to look at the position of women employed in munitions. In spite of the restoration of Pre-War Practices Act, compelling many employers to dismiss women workers, enough women remained in engineering and enough women wanted to enter the profession to make the WES worthwhile.

The Society was initially based in London, but other branches soon followed in Newcastle, Manchester and the Midlands. The objectives of the organisation were: to promote the awareness of engineering as a prime creator of wealth in society and the contribution women can make to it; to promote the training and education of women engineers, to ensure women engineers can influence the process of policy formation and decision-making in government and other organisations; to foster good practice in the employment of women engineers in order to enable them to progress equally with male colleagues; to provide a network of members and support.

The first Annual Conference was held in Birmingham in 1923. The Council met four times per year. Additionally, the society launched the Verena Holmes Lecture Fund in 1969 to encourage young people to join the engineering profession and to give career advice. The Caroline Haslett Memorial Trust awards university scholarships. The official organ of the society, since 1919, was 'The Woman Engineer', published quarterly.

The WES launched and kept close links with the Electrical Association of Women. In 1925 the Society, with outside help, organised the Conference of Women in Science, Industry and Commerce held at the Empire Exhibition, Wembley. In 1934, the WES persuaded the International Labour Organisation to amend the Washington Convention on the issue of women working during the night.

Ira Rischowski (fl.1899-1977) was born in Germany in 1899 and trained as an engineer receiving a Dipl. Ing. VDI, a German degree which corresponds to the English B.Sc. She was an active member of the German anti-Nazi and socialist group 'Org.' in the 1930s and after having been shortly imprisoned in 1935 she emigrated to Britain with her husband. When she came to Britain she worked as a draughtswoman and planning engineer at Tuvox Ltd., Middlesex from 1942 to 1944, but then transferred to James Gordon Ltd, London where she made a career from draughtswoman to Head of Projects Department in 1956 and where she worked until her retirement.

She became an Association member of the WES London Branch on 27.11.1939, a full member in 1949 and an Honorary member in 1977. She served on the London Branch Committee, was a member of Council from 1948, was Chair of the Equal Pay Sub-Committee and of the Training and Opportunities Sub-Committee.

Arrangement

The records of the Women's Engineering Society have been arranged into 9 series, maintaining original order where this was apparent. The series reflect the activities to which they relate (eg. Minutes, Membership) or their form (eg. Publications).

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is available for research. Readers are advised to contact The Women's Library in advance of their first visit.

Acquisition Information

Donated by Ira Rischowski in 1987.

Other Finding Aids

The Women's Library Catalogue

Custodial History

The material was collated by Ira Rischowski in the course of her life.

Related Material

The Women's Library holds the records of the British Federation of Business & Professional Women (6BFW). The Women's Library Periodicals Collection holds copies of The Woman Engineer.

Records of the Society 1919-1979 (ref. NAEST 92) and papers of Dame Caroline Haslett (ref. NAEST 33) are held by the Institute of Electrical Engineers Archives Department. London Metropolitan Archive holds the records of the National Council of Women.