Female Engineers in the First World War

Female Engineers in the First World War

Sunday 11th November 2018 marked the centenary of the First World War. This global war, originating in Europe, lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. These four years saw large numbers of women enter technical fields. Women were now manning the Home Front, helping construct machinery and driving the transport. French Field Marshal Joseph Joffre wrote, “If the women in the factories stopped work for twenty minutes, the Allies would lose the war.”

Just two years earlier, women entering these industries would have been inconceivable. Dawn Bonfield, former president of the Women’s Engineering Society said “There had been the odd determined woman who had broken down the barriers … But the war was the big driver. That was the catalyst for women to get into engineering for the first time.”  Women were even praised for their engineering skills. One employer told a newspaper “They are born mechanics, who work with their brains as well as their hands. I have found that a woman’s touch is more trustworthy than a man’s.”

However, women’s breakthrough into engineering was only temporary. In 1919, the Restoration of Pre-War Practices Act made women give up their jobs for the men who returned home from the war. Bonfield says “Women in factories, munitions and any technical roles were thrown out… They were at a loss so the Women’s Engineering Society was established to enable women to get degrees, and remain in technical roles.” Today, only 11.8% of professional engineers are women. Talent 2030 is a national campaign which encourages girls to enter engineering. Campaigns such as these are vital to ensuring we continue to tackle the gender skills gap.

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