Who was the first British woman electrical engineer?

HERTHA AYRTON 1854 – 19123

After a difficult childhood helping her widowed mother bring up her seven siblings, Hertha went to live with her aunts who ran a school in North London and by the age of sixteen  she’d become a governess.

Hertha had shown an early aptitude for mathematics and went to Girton College, Cambridge to pursue her studies of the subject.

She was an enthusiastic student who participated fully in college life and was awarded an academic certificate by the university before gaining a full degree from Bedford College in 1881.

She worked as a teacher and began a career as an inventor, filing patents for twenty six devices during her life.

These included five mathematical dividers useful for engineers and architects,

thirteen related to arc lamps and electrodes

and the others on the propulsion of air.

She began to specialise in electrical engineering and she became a fellow of the Royal Society as well as becoming the wife of her tutor, Professor Ayrton.

Hertha was a pioneer in improving arc lighting which was widely used in the late Victorian period of public lighting.

She understood that the flickering and hissing associated with the arc lights was caused by oxygen in contact with the carbon rods in the arc lights.

She presented a paper to the Institute of Electrical Engineers explaining the phenomena and was invited to join the Institute, the first woman to become a member.

Image credit: By Héléna Arsène Darmesteter – Art UK, Public Domain, WikiCommons