By Aisling O’Malley, IET Archivist
In November 1924, the Women’s Electrical Association was formed at a meeting organised by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES). By 1925 the organisation, whose director at this time was WES Secretary Dame Caroline Haslett, was renamed the Electrical Association for Women (EAW).
The aims of the EAW differed to WES; the latter aimed to encourage women to study and enter careers in engineering and offered a space where women could discuss and exchange ideas concerning engineering. In contrast, the EAW was focussed on the domestic use of electricity and encouraged women to incorporate it in their homes and lives. Campaigns, publications, and education were employed by the EAW to disseminate their message and meet their aims. Education was a fundamental part of the EAW’s work.
After a request from the Board of Education, the EAW organised summer schools for teachers and later established diplomas and certificates for demonstrators and teachers; these later became recognised qualifications. In 1936, the EAW Home Workers certificate was established and then replaced by the Electricity for Everyday Living course. The Electrical Handbook, first published in 1934, became a recognised textbook for training purposes, and went through many editions and revisions.
The EAW were not solely focused on the education of adults. In July 1931, the EAW published a twelve-page pamphlet written by Dr C F Smith, MIEE, with a foreword from Dame Caroline Haslett. The pamphlet includes two lectures on ‘The Method of Presenting Electrical Knowledge to the Child’ given by Dr C F Smith during the first course on ‘Electricity Applied to the Home’ in August 1930.
The purpose of the lecture was to provide an aid to teachers to educate children about electricity; to achieve this Dr C F Smith created a story where its protagonist, a boy named Bob, who, in his dreams, enters an alternative world guided by ‘a little old man’. Bob is shown little men rushing in and out of a ‘feeding house’, entering as ‘slim men’ and exiting as ‘fat men’ and rushing to a narrow, flat tunnel named the ‘squeegee’ to return to their former shape before rushing back to the feeding house to repeat the process. The lecture provides diagrams and an explanation of how the ‘little men’ represents the flow of electricity.
In 1935, the EAW produced another story written by Dr C F Smith: ‘The Rays: A Fairy Story: For the future Housewives who will have Electricity as a helper’. The aim of this story was to give children the confidence to use and be around electricity, especially in the home. The story focusses on a girl called Hilda who encounters two little men who call themselves ‘Ray’, one being ‘the last ray of sunlight’ and the other as having reached the earth a million years ago. The latter ‘Ray’ explains to Hilda the process of how coal is produced and how it is used to produce energy, energy that Hilda uses in her own home. The story gives examples of how Hilda uses ‘Ray,’ aka electricity, in her daily life such as when ironing and vacuuming. The story also explains how coal is converted into electricity and reaches homes like Hilda’s.
By producing these educational aids, the EAW were fulfilling their aim of educating consumers as to the benefits of electricity. Women could therefore be released from the burden of household chores and homes would be equipped with the most modern and convenient of appliances.