July 1916 – A women’s engineering works

Download document:

The Engineer July 1916 - .PDF file.

Figures from Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) state that 13 per cent of STEM employees are female, a figure they want to see increased to 30 per cent by 2020.

This target is laudable given the plethora of career and vocational pathways available to women today.

The outlook for most women was very different at the start of the First World War but that changed radically as men left to serve in Europe, leaving gaps on factory floors that would be filled by 950,000 women in munitions factories alone.

Women’s contribution to the war effort did not go unnoticed by the directors of a control firm in Scotland who in 1916 proposed opening a factory employing  women only.

By today’s standards, the age and gender requirements for prospective employees would present the company with all sorts of legal difficulties, but 97 years ago The Engineer reported with great enthusiasm on the efforts being made to establish the aerospace plant for the duration of the war and beyond.

To be established on the West Coast of Scotland, the works would ‘be open only to well-educated women between the ages of 20 and 35 who show a bent for mechanics and in choosing the workers preference will be given to widows and daughters of officers in the Army and Navy.’

The Engineer continued, ‘One feature of the working of the scheme is that the amount of remuneration given will be decided by means of examinations.

‘The first six weeks are to be regarded as a probationary period during which payment will be at the rate of £1 per week [£73.66 by today’s standards].’

Working hours – rather long by today’s standards – and details of what an employee could expect to earn can be found here.