Caroline Haslett was born in Worth on the edge of Ashdown Forest, Suffolk on August 17th 1895. She was the second of five children to Mr and Mrs Robert Haslett. She was to become the eldest as her older brother, William, died of diphtheria at the age of three. Caroline was bought up in a close knit family with a deep social sense of responsibility and religion was a way of life which she continued into her adulthood. Caroline was the daughter of an engineer and lay preacher and her father was to be an astounding influence on her life. Caroline was a keen amateur botanist, a love that she inherited from her parents, and this was greatly admired aspect of her life, because, in 1952 a white Iris was named Dame Caroline in her honour.
As a child Caroline was fascinated by tools and was very keen to learn their uses and spent many hours at her fathers side learning how to use them. She didn't particularly like feminine accomplishments such as embroidery and cookery, which were the things expected of young ladies in the early 20th century. Although Caroline won a scholarship in 1906 to Haywards Heath High School, she was quite ill and spent a lot of time on her back trying to strengthen her spine and it was doubtful she would ever be strong enough to lead a normal life. She was to prove them wrong and went on to finish school, albeit with advice from her Headmistress that she would be better off leaving early as schooling was a waste of time.
Caroline, in her later years delighted in inviting both her Headmistress and Science teacher to various functions in the hopes that they would eventually understand her. While Caroline was at school her interest in electricity began and along with it the emancipation of women from the prejudices under which women suffered, which she shared with her mother. Her father was not pleased but he accepted it. He quickly realised that Caroline was unique and was very proud of her and his other children.
At 18 Caroline left home to start her career, which was first to be at secretarial college and in 1914 Caroline secured her first job as a junior clerk at Cochran Boiler Company for 10 shillings (50 pence to those who don't remember old money) a week. By 1918 Caroline was managing the London Office and getting orders from the War Office. Realising her worth the company sent her to their Scottish Office and works in Annan to learn more of the boiler making business. The Scottish engineers, not used to females, were soon won over by Caroline's determination and her knowledge. She was to go on to design her first boiler blue print with specifications and shipping instructions to New York.
World War one, 1914 - 1918 gave Caroline and many other women the opportunity of learning first hand the value of industrials methods and the importance of mechanisation. Caroline was readily accepted by then and the equality of the sexes was no longer an issue. Caroline was an independent woman and she made the news. The Westminster Gazette dated 21st August 1925 ran an article titled "miss All-Alone". In those days it was unheard of single women living independently and mentioned that in 1925 she had decided to leave the security of a household and found herself a small flat, which she and a friend, wired up for electricity to meters, this was proven to be the start of her great interest in making women's lives at home easier.
By the 1930ís, as an expert in the knowledge of woman's place in engineering and electrical worlds Caroline was consulted by the Board of Education on the best ways to remould the education of girls. Caroline was invited to serve as an honorary advisor to the Headmistress Employment Committee in conjunction with the Ministry of Labour.
As Caroline invaded the man's world she saw that other women had to take a back seat, in other words, return to being housewives. As the First World War ended and the men returned from the front, the women were frustrated as the economy could not absorb both men and women into the work force. Caroline left Cochran's as she wanted to widen her horizons. Her friend and mentor at Cochran's, John Hopkinson, showed her an advert in a magazine called "Engineering", it read 'Required, Lady with some experience in Engineering Works, as Organising Secretary for a Women's Engineering Society'. At the age of 24, Caroline saw this as an opportunity for trying to make life easier for women. She answered the advert and in turn was invited to meet Lady Parsons, who was the wife of the then famous Sir Charles Parsons who had invented the Parsons Steam Turbine. Lady Parsons was an engineer in her own right, she was also known as a crusading pioneer and stalwart champion for women's rights. After gaining the position, Caroline's association with both Lady Parsons and her husband was to surpass an ordinary business association which ripened into respect and loyal friendship. The post to which Caroline was appointed paid a salary of 200.00 per annum, but she saw little of this as the society had a very low income but a very high zeal for the crusade. Help was at hand though, as benefactors were to be the mainstay of the society, such as Lady Beilby who donated one hundred pounds with no strings attached "use as you think fit". This was one of many generous donations and when Lady Beilby died, she left 500.00 in her will.
The society acted as adviser in the planning of women's careers but the slump of 1922 played havoc with the plans of feminists - unemployment figures rose alarmingly and after training many women found themselves unable to gain employment. By 1921 the society and its writings had reached the USA and Russia, forging links across the world, with many ideas pouring in, such as the 'quick boiling lid for saucepans' and many others. The society received wider recognition and support when the Viscountess Astor gave a party with HRH the Prince of Wales as the distinguished guest.
Another influence on Caroline's life was a Mr H S Button, who championed for women's rights. He was a member of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, member of the Industrial Court representing the employees and council member of the Industrial Welfare Society. Caroline eagerly accepted an invitation to become a member of the council in 1923 and remained so until 1955, when illness forced her to resign.
The first World Power Conference was held in London in 1924. Topics included how industrial and scientific resources of power might be adjusted nationally and internationally. Discussions concerning the potential resources of each country, in power, oil and minerals and comparing the experience of each in the development of its resources. One section was devoted to 'Power in Domestic Use and Agriculture'. Caroline was invited to speak because she was still a novelty as a female engineer. She excelled and was to prove an advocate for women once again. She also gave a speech concerning electricity at the conference, following a report that she had written in the 'Woman Engineer' magazine.
Over the next 15 years Caroline's life was closely linked to the development of the Electrical Association for Women. Never far from her thoughts was a quotation form Emile Zola, and printed on card and prominently displayed at the headquarters of the Association:
The day will come when electricity will be for everyone as the waters of the rivers
and the wind of the heaven. It should not be merely supplied but lavished, that
men may use it at their will, as the air they breath.
Caroline saw electricity as a means to an end, and by its aid, she saw her dream about to come true, the dream that women everywhere would be freed form a life of drudgery and be able to enjoy their lives to the full.
The 1931 New Year's Honours list appointed Caroline as a C.B.E. in recognition of her work with electricity, this award gave her immense pleasure, as did, being the first woman selected to join the Institute of Electrical Engineers in 1932 as a Companion member. That year she was also selected as chairwoman for the Home Safety Committee, a position she held until 1936. The following year, Caroline became the first woman Vice President of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. It was stated, after Caroline's death, that she was an inspiration, full of liveliness and charm who helped a campaign , that without her enthusiasm could well have foundered.
Bad lighting was a contributory factor, not only to the accident rate, but also to eye defects. Caroline constantly urged the correct use of lighting in the home, stressing the psychological effects on members of the family. To inform the general public about safety and ergonomics, Caroline wrote a book entitled 'The Kitchen Practical', and we as women can thank her for her insights.
Caroline's Christian links remained into her adulthood and after the second world war she came into contact with the Modern Churchman's union through Sir Henry Self, Deputy Chairman of the British Electricity Authority.
Caroline met Albert Einstein at the World Power Conference in Berlin in 1930. She was the first woman to 'defile' the rostrum that Hitler had used. The Berliner Stadtblatt, under the headline, 'Frau und Technik' printed an interview. It described Caroline as a likeable and intelligent woman and had her quoted as saying that brilliant inventors were the worst possible instructors and that there was a real need for women to explain to women in simple language how to use the brain child's of these inventors. It was from this visit that the German Women's Engineering Society was created.