Magnificent Women and Their Revolutionary Machines by Henrietta Heald

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for Magnificent Women and Their Revolutionary Machines by Henrietta Heald and published by Unbound

About the Book

‘Women have won their political independence. Now is the time for them to achieve their economic freedom too.’

This was the great rallying cry of the pioneers who, in 1919, created the Women’s Engineering Society. Spearheaded by Katharine and Rachel Parsons, a powerful mother and daughter duo, and Caroline Haslett, whose mission was to liberate women from domestic drudgery, it was the world’s first professional organisation dedicated to the campaign for women’s rights.

Magnificent Women and their Revolutionary Machines tells the stories of the women at the heart of this group – from their success in fanning the flames of a social revolution to their significant achievements in engineering and technology. It centres on the parallel but contrasting lives of the two main protagonists, Rachel Parsons and Caroline Haslett – one born to privilege and riches whose life ended in dramatic tragedy; the other who rose from humble roots to become the leading professional woman of her age and mistress of the thrilling new power of the twentieth century: electricity.

In this fascinating book, acclaimed biographer Henrietta Heald also illuminates the era in which the society was founded. From the moment when women in Britain were allowed to vote for the first time, and to stand for Parliament, she charts the changing attitudes to women’s rights both in society and in the workplace.

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.


My Review

As World War one started the drain of men to go and fight began to affect the ability of factories to produce the ordinance and supplies that the army needed to fight. They turned to the women to work in the factories, but some would not just do the simple repetitive tasks that are needed to make simple items, they would step up and learn the trade so they could construct places and some went onto design new things.

By the end of the war though, the UK government and unions wanted to return to the previous status quo and parliament was set to pass the Restoration Of Pre-War Practices Bill which would mean that any women employed by engineering companies who had not employed women in that role would have to sack them or face a fine. This went against what was happening in wider society, as some women were just starting to get the vote and play a more meaningful role in a society that had changed after the war.

There were some women who were not prepared to take this, in particular, Katharine and Rachel Parsons and Caroline Haslett, who, in 1919 created the Women’s Engineering Society. They had several aims, but the core focus was to ensure that women’s rights were protected and promoted and they really had their work cut out. The book is mostly about the two main women involved in society and how one became the leading professional engineer of her age and the other whose life ended in tragedy.

However there is much more to this book than just these two characters, there are stories of women who created their own women-only engineering businesses, improved worker safety, became marine engineers and mechanics, pilots and racing drivers and engine designers. It was really hard to make inroads against the status quo, but they stuck at it and with the impending war, they were going to become useful once again.

Henrietta Heald has written a really good book about the history of the Women’s Engineering Society and about two much-maligned sectors of society, women and engineers. It is very readable and full of details and anecdotes about all sort of female engineers and their achievements and it is very timely. My father was an engineer during his career and worked in the navy and was then an inspector for pressure vessels. I am an engineer too having studied, electronic and then mechanical engineering and have worked in defence, hi-fi and lighting industries. For me, this is an important book as my daughter is just about to embark on her apprenticeship as an engineer for a large local company and she will be accompanied by two other girls in this years intake approaching near to the 30% target they have set by 2030.

For those want to see just what women are capable of in STEM then have a look at this thread


Don’t forget to visit the other blogs on the blog tour

Buy this book at your local independent bookshop. If you’re not sure where your nearest is then you can find one here

My thanks to Anne Cater from Random Things Through My Letterbox and Unbound for the copy of the book to read.

Spread the love


  1. Helen Williams

    This is a great review Paul – I work in STEM myself, so interested in reading about other women and their history. Pretty sure I have this one at home, think I supported it (lost track!) So will raise it up the TBR based on your review.

    • admin

      Thank you, Helen. My wife is a chemist like you so we’re fully STEM’d up here

  2. Liz Dexter

    Oh this does sound great. Aren’t Unbound bringing brilliant books into the world – a lovely variety.

    • admin

      Unbound are one of my top read publishers this year along with Eland

  3. Anne Cater

    Thanks so much for this blog tour support Paul, and good luck to your daughter!

    • admin

      You’re welcome, and thank you, Anne. She is looking forward to it.

Leave a Reply

© 2024 Halfman, Halfbook

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑