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Verena Holmes

Portrait of Verena Holmes published in the announcement of her presidency of the Women's Engineering Society in their journal, The Woman Engineer, volume 3

Verena Winifred Holmes (23 June 1889 – 20 February 1964)[1] was an English mechanical engineer and multi-field inventor, the first woman member elected to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (1924), and 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.[2][3] She was the first practising engineer to serve as president of the society.[4]

Early life

She was born at Highworth, Ashford, Kent to Florence Mary Holmes and Edmond Gore Alexander Holmes. Having wanted to be an engineer since childhood, Holmes gained employment building wooden propellers at the Integral Propeller Company, Hendon, after graduation from Oxford High School for Girls. She took night classes at the Shoreditch Technical Institute and attended a technical college in Lincoln; she served as an apprentice form-fitter and drafter before graduation from Loughborough Engineering College in 1922 with a BSc(Eng) degree.[5]

Professional career

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 admitted to the Institution of Locomotive Engineers in 1931.[6]

She was employed by Research Engineers Ltd. from 1932–39, during which time she developed and patented many 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 12 inventions for medical devices as well as engine components.[7]

During World War II she worked on naval weaponry and in 1940 became adviser to Ernest Bevin, the minister of labour, on the training of munition workers.[4] She was appointed headquarters technical officer with the Ministry of Labour (1940-1944). She was heavily involved in encouraging and supporting women in engineering. Together with Caroline Haslett and Claudia Parsons, she was a founding member of the Women's Engineering Society in 1919. She served the society in several capacities, including president in 1930 and 1931.[7]

Support for women's engineering

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. She founded the engineering firm of Holmes and Leather in 1946, which 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.[7] In 1958, she published a booklet, Training and Opportunities for Women in Engineering.[6]

From 1969, the Women's Engineering Society supported a yearly Verena Holmes lecture,[8] given at various venues across Britain to children aged nine to eleven to encourage interest in engineering, [9][10] although now the programme is closed. Verena Holmes' birthday of 23 June coincides with International Women in Engineering Day and she is commemorated as part of that celebration.


  1. ^ "Magnificent Women: Verena Holmes" (PDF). Women's Engineering Society. Retrieved 4 June 2019.
  2. ^ "Presidents Past & Present". Women's Engineering Society. Retrieved 18 March 2019.
  3. ^ Profile Presidents Past & Present at the Wayback Machine (archived 25 August 2012),; accessed 24 February 2013.
  4. ^ a b Celebrating Women in Engineering 1919-2019. Women's Engineering Society. 2019. p. 24.
  5. ^ Carroll Pursell (1993). ""Am I a Lady or an Engineer?" The Origins of the Women's Engineering Society in Britain, 1918-1940". Technology and Culture. 34 (1): 78–97. doi:10.2307/3106456. JSTOR 3106456.
  6. ^ a b Stanley, Autumn (2010) [2004]. "Holmes, Verena Winifred". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/66362.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  7. ^ a b c Stanley, Autumn (1995). Mothers and Daughters of Invention: Notes for a Revised History of Technology. Rutgers University Press. ISBN 9780813521978.
  8. ^ "The Verena Holmes Lecture Series | Women's Engineering Society". Retrieved 18 June 2018.
  9. ^ Women's Engineering Society: Role Models; accessed 24 February 2013]
  10. ^ Verena Holmes Lecture,; accessed 22 June 2015.

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