Highworth, Maidstone Rd, Ashford TN24 8UD, UK
Verena Winifred Holmes (23 June 1889 – 20 February 1964) was the first woman Inst. of Mechanical Engineers member in 1919 and Inst. of Locomotive Engineers member and Inst. of Mechanical Engineers Fellow in 1931.
She was an English mechanical engineer and multi-field inventor, the first woman member elected to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (1924) and the Institution of Locomotive Engineers (1931), and was a strong supporter of women in engineering. She was one of the early members of the Women's Engineering Society, and its president in 1931. She was the first practising engineer to serve as president of the society.
She was born at Highworth, Ashford, Kent to Florence Mary Syme (d. 1927), and Edmond Gore Alexander Holmes (1850–1906), chief inspector of elementary schools for England. She was one of three children, her brother Maurice Gerald Holmes (1885–1964) became a leading British civil servant. Holmes was educated at Oxford High School for Girls, and after leaving school worked briefly as a photographer before the outbreak of the First World War enabled her to start working at the Integral Propeller Company, Hendon, on the manufacture of wooden propellers. While working, Holmes attended night classes at Shoreditch Technical Institute She then moved to Lincoln to work for the industrial engine manufacturer Ruston and Hornsby, where she started as a supervisor for women employees. Due to the relaxation of working conditions in wartime, she was able to complete an apprenticeship at the company and by 1919 was working in the drawing office. Unlike most of her contemporaries, she continued to be employed by the company after the end of the war. As when she was working in Hendon, Holmes attended technical classes at a local technical college. In 1922, Holmes graduated from Loughborough Engineering College with a BSc(Eng) degree. Her fellow students at Loughborough included the engineer and international traveller Claudia Parsons.
Her technical specialities included marine and locomotive engines, diesel and internal combustion engines. She became an associate member of the Institution of Marine Engineers in 1924 and was the first woman to be admitted to the Institution of Locomotive Engineers in 1931. In 1925, Holmes set up her own consulting company. Holmes patented a number of inventions, including the Holmes and Wingfield pneumo-thorax apparatus for treating patients with tuberculosis, a surgeon's headlamp, a poppet valve for steam locomotives, and rotary valves for internal combustion engines. She held patents for twelve inventions for medical devices as well as engine components.. From 1928-1931 she worked at the North British Locomotive Works, Glasgow, and from 1931-1939 at Research Engineers Ltd. During World War II Holmes worked on naval weaponry and in 1940 became adviser to Ernest Bevin, the minister of labour, on the training of munition workers. She was appointed headquarters technical officer with the Ministry of Labour (1940-1944).
Together with Caroline Haslett and Claudia Parsons, Holmes was active in the Women's Engineering Society, founded in 1919. She served that society in several capacities, including president in 1930 and 1931 and was involved in the complex discussions about the organisation's direction of travel which led to the resignation of the second president Katharine Parsons in 1925. She was a delegate at first International Conference of Women in Science, Industry and Commerce in July 1925. Her work in support of women in engineering was based partly upon her own experiences; although she had been admitted to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers as an associate member in 1924, it took twenty years for her to be admitted as a full member. In 1946 Holmes founded the engineering firm of Holmes and Leather with Sheila Leather a fellow WES member and future President (1950–1951). They employed only women. Using a design created by Holmes, this firm created the first practical safety guillotine for paper, making it suitable for introduction into schools. In 1958, Holmes published a booklet, Training and Opportunities for Women in Engineering. She was influential in setting up the Women's Technical Services Register during the Second World War, which included a training course for women munitions workers to enable them to apply for roles such as junior draughtsmen and laboratory assistants. From 1969, the Women's Engineering Society supported a yearly Verena Holmes lecture, given at various venues across Britain to children aged nine to eleven to encourage interest in engineering. Verena Holmes' birthday of 23 June coincides with International Women in Engineering Day and she is commemorated as part of that celebration.
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