First President of WES honoured with blue plaque

A Newcastle woman who over 100 years ago became a pioneer in the male dominated world of engineering has been honoured with a commemorative plaque. Rachel Mary Parsons (1885-1956) became the first President of the Women’s Engineering Society in 1919 and was one of the first three to study Mechanical Sciences at Cambridge University.

As the daughter of Charles Parsons, inventor of the compound steam engine and the Turbinia (Discovery Museum), she became director of her father’s Heaton Works, CA Parsons, replacing her brother who went to fight in the First World War.

After the war there was a huge push to expel women from the workforce, but she responded by setting up the Women’s Engineering Society with her mother and became its first president.

In 1919 she became one of the first three women to be admitted to the Royal Institution of Naval Architects and a year later founded Atalanta Ltd, an all-female engineering company.

The plaque in her memory was unveiled today (Tues, Oct 24) at 6 Windsor Terrace, Newcastle, now part of Newcastle University’s halls of residence.

Unveiling it was the Lord Mayor of Newcastle, Cllr Veronica Dunn, who said: “Rachel Parsons was a remarkable woman. In a male dominated profession, she fought for women to follow their dreams and did more than just about any other person to encourage women into engineering. She went on to employ women engineers and fight for fairer employment rights for women. I am proud that she lived in Newcastle for at least part of her life.

“She attended Newcastle High School for Girls and later worked in a prominent role at her father’s Heaton factory. She was a trailblazer in every sense of the word, and I am delighted we are honouring her considerable contribution today.”

Rachel was nominated for the plaque by Common Room, a group which celebrates the region’s industrial past and present.

Liz Mayes, Chief Executive of the Common Room, said: “The Common Room uses our unique heritage to inspire the next generation of innovators and engineers. Through our Graft and Glory exhibition, education workshops and public engagement activities, we are telling the stories of how engineers and innovators from the North East impact the world in the past, present, and future.

“Our Inspiring Pioneers Commemorative Plaque scheme aims to highlight the remarkable women who went unnoticed or underappreciated during their lifetime, their fantastic work still stands the test of time, and we must know more about them.

“Rachel Parsons was a pre-eminent thinker, creator, and innovator, who did not take no for an answer. Having achieved many firsts during her career, she was a true trailblazer both in engineering and feminism. The Common Room is hugely proud to be able to give these women a platform from which they can shine.”

In later life Rachel was elected to London County Council and stood for election in 1923 when there were only two female MPs. Tragically she died on 2 July 1956 at Newmarket at the hands of a former employee who was convicted of her manslaughter.

The commemorative plaque scheme, organised by Newcastle City Council, aims to highlight people, places and events in the city’s history that inspires and educates.

It sheds light on those who achieved great things but have been largely forgotten as all nominations must have been dead for at least 20 years.

Anyone who would like to nominate a person or a building for a plaque should email a completed application form from the council’s plaque webpage with supporting information to

All nominations that meet the criteria are then presented to the council’s Historic Environment Advisory Panel for final consideration.

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