Rachel Parsons – A woman ahead of her time

Rachel Mary Parsons was an extraordinary woman, born ahead of her time into an illustrious family. She had a remarkable impact on women’s rights in the engineering world,  founding societies and well-known in the highest of social circles for her glittering parties and grand houses in London and Suffolk. Sadly, wartime sorrow and estrangement haunted her life until she met her tragic end.

She inherited the talents of her father, Charles Algernon Parsons, and shared his interest in the world of engineering, accompanying him aboard the Turbinia during trials and sailing with him aboard the Mauretania in 1909.  She was the first woman to read Mechanical Sciences at Cambridge University in 1910.

During the hardships of World War I, women were called to work in the munitions factories, replacing the men fighting on the front line. Taking on the role of director of the family’s Parsons Marine Steam Turbine Company, Rachel trained thousands of women assembling aeroplane components and making searchlight equipment to scan the skies for aircraft. As the supply of war materials became more and more urgent, Rachel trained more and more women to excel at intricate, physically demanding and highly important tasks, from installing electrical wiring on battleships, to working hydraulic presses.

See our previous blog on Women in Engineering

ParsonsGirls1
Parsons Women Labourers during WWI (ref: Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums)

Rachel had no intention of following the conventional path expected of a young lady. Inspired by her experiences and determined to prove her worth she, with the help of her mother, founded the Women’s Engineering Society and became its first president. She was a keen member of the Royal Institute of Great Britain, and in 1922 joined the London County Council standing as a candidate for the Conservatives the year after during a time when only two female MPs were in office.

Later life hampered her political ambitions and faded her career aspirations. She found renewed lifestyle and enjoyed her parent’s inheritance, throwing grand parties and attending horse races.

She eventually moved to Newmarket and bought a stud farm in the surrounding Suffolk countryside.

It was here she met a brutal end when she was struck down and murdered by a stable worker and ex-employee of hers. He escaped the death penalty when he was found guilty of man-slaughter in the face of unendurable provocation.

Her story, though with a terribly tragic end, tells one of a lady’s determination to succeed and prove herself in times of great challenge.

Read more about Rachel Parsons here: www.rachelparsons.co.uk

 

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