Magnificent Women and Their Revolutionary Machines by Henrietta Heald

Today I pass the blog over to Mandie who has a review of Magnificent Women and Their Revolutionary Machines by Henrietta Heald. Thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting us to take part, and to publisher Unbound for providing a copy for review. Here’s what it’s about:

Source: Review Copy

About the Book

In 1919, in the wake of the First World War, a group of extraordinary women came together to create the Women’s Engineering Society. They were trailblazers, pioneers and boundary breakers, but many of their stories have been lost to history. To mark the centenary of the society’s creation, Magnificent Women and Their Revolutionary Machines brings them back to life.

Their leaders were Katharine and Rachel Parsons, wife and daughter of the engineering genius Charles Parsons, and Caroline Haslett, a self-taught electrical engineer who campaigned to free women from domestic drudgery and became the most powerful professional woman of her age. Also featured are Eleanor Shelley-Rolls, sister of car magnate Charles Rolls; Viscountess Rhondda, a director of thirty-three companies who founded and edited the revolutionary Time and Tide magazine; and Laura Willson, a suffragette and labour rights activist from Halifax, who was twice imprisoned for her political activities.

This is not just the story of the women themselves, but also the era in which they lived. Beginning at the moment when women in Britain were allowed to vote for the first time, and to stand for Parliament and when several professions were opened up to them Magnificent Women charts the changing attitudes towards women in society and in the workplace.

Available from: Amazon | Waterstones

Mandie’s Thoughts

You always hear about the men in history that change the way the world does things or thinks…with few exceptions there is not so much known of the women that fought to change the perceptions of what they were capable of. With Magnificent Women and their Revolutionary Machines, Henrietta Heald has begun to rectify this. You get to learn about the strong-minded women who proved that women could excel in the world of engineering. Many of those featured in the book were wives or daughters of prominent men, so were exposed to the male dominated world on a daily basis and knew just how fascinating it could be. Their skills and ability to learn quickly had been utilised during WW1 to fill essential roles left vacant by the men called to fight only to be cast aside once the war was over and the men returned.

Faced with either going back to shop work or redundancy these women refused to give in, forming the Women’s Engineering Society and in the process helped improve working conditions for everyone and revolutionised things we now take for granted. The story of Rachel Parson’s life although exciting had quite a sad and violent ending and not really fitting for someone who did so much for the modern woman. The end of the book gives a chronological breakdown of all the major events for women throughout history from 1805 and the first woman to pilot a hot air balloon to the present day and photographs of the women who this book is about.

What I loved about this book is that as well as learning about these fascinating women, you also get more of an insight to the way society functioned during this time. I was amazed that although they could attend university, the restrictions upon their conduct were unbelievable by today’s standards and it was many years before their study and exams were recognised by the education system. For me this book also gave me a connection to my own grandmother. The Electrical Association for Women was another society formed around this time and I knew that my grandmother was involved with it and I remember a cabinet that she always had by her bed with the society’s initials on it, but apart from knowing what the letters stood for, I didn’t really know much more than that. Thanks to Henrietta and her book, I can at least understand a little more about her life and her interests.

This is truly a book that will inspire those considering a career in engineering, or if like me have a fascination for history, will give further insight into a fascinating subject.

About the Author

Henrietta Heald is the author of William Armstrong, Magician of the North which was shortlisted for the H. W. Fisher Best First Biography Prize and the Portico Prize for non-fiction. She was chief editor of Chronicle of Britain and Ireland and Reader’s Digest Illustrated Guide to Britain’s Coast. Her other books include Coastal Living, La Vie est Belle, and a National Trust guide to Cragside, Northumberland.

Author Links: Twitter

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