In April 1919 the Board of Governors of the Borough Polytechnic declined an application from the Women’s Engineering Society to allow women to join the day classes in Engineering subjects. Women who had worked or were working in engineering were only permitted to join the evening classes on the same terms as men. Despite this, in 1920 the prospectus for the Women’s Section pointed women towards classes in other departments for the first time, including Engineering.
The first woman student to take these classes was Ida E M Bould. Student records haven’t survived from the 1920s, but the exam registers have and we’ve been able to find out more about her through records held elsewhere. She was born in Southwark in 1896 after her family moved to London from Derbyshire and was the youngest of 6 children, although by 1911 only 3 were still living. Her father was a millwright and engineer, and in 1901 her older brother Walter was an apprentice engineer so an interest in engineering clearly ran in the family. We don’t know what happened to her after she finished her course and if she was able to work in engineering drawing. In 1933 she was working at the Royal Army Clothing Depot in Pimlico, and by 1939 she was living in Wandsworth, working as a stock-keeper (Corsets) and living with Alice M Goodfellow, a Linen Room Superintendent in a hospital. Ida and Alice were still living together in 1957, by that time they had moved to Gomshall near Guildford and it seems they later moved to Worthing as they both died there in 1975.
Ida was the only woman to take any classes in the Engineering department in 1920-21 and one of only 14 women throughout the decade. Her Technical Drawing class had 70 students in it, so she was very much outnumbered by men! 20 of those students failed to pass the exams, but Ida wasn’t one of them. Not only did she pass, but in scoring 84% in her exam and 76% in her classroom work she had the best exam marks and one of the highest average scores of the class.
In 1923-24, four years after the Board of Governors discussed it, two women took non-drawing engineering courses. Annie Reynolds and Cornelia Schenk both studied Electrical Engineering and Physics that year, but we don’t know anything further about them. If you know anything about them, please let us know!