Lady Moir

Lady Moir[1]
Lady Margaret Bruce Moir, O.B.E., 69, (1864-1942) was a lathe operator, a workers’ relief organiser, an employment campaigner, an “engineer by marriage”, and a founder member of the Women’s Engineering Society (WES), later Vice-President and President. In 1934 she was President of the Electrical Association for Women (EAW). In 1931 she was quoted thus: “It is essential that women become electrically minded. By this I mean that they must not only familiarize themselves with electric washing machines, fires and cookers, but possess sufficient technical knowledge to enable them to repair fuses and make other minor adjustments. Only by doing so will women learn to value electricity’s cheapness and utility, and regard it as a power to rescue them from all unnecessary household labours.”[2]  With “the dawn of the all-electric era at hand” this she saw as freeing women to pursue careers outside the home.[3]


In our suggested circle Margaret would be in conversation with The Hon. Ismay Fitzgerald and Dr Elizabeth Sloan-Chesser, in my mind at least between one of the more fun members of this party and one of the more serious. But I may be totally wrong.


The big things in recent weeks will have been, perhaps, the opening of the new headquarters of the Electricity Association for Women at 20 Lower Regent’s Street, where you could see all the latest gadgets, learn new skills, network and see the future. So if her table partners hadn’t visited yet they will probably be needing to do so soon. It’s a men’s clothes store today.  In 1938 Central London Electricity opened their own showrooms, designed by modernist architect E. Maxwell Fry, further up Regent Street.

puzzle-piece2-50Do you have a photograph of the Electrical Association for Women’s premises at 20 Lower Regent’s Street at the time? The façade may be the same though this block has been redeveloped recently.

Regents Street.png


Margaret Bruce Moir née Pennycook was born on 10th January 1864 at Gorgie, nr Edinburgh, the sixth of the eight children of Margaret Davidson and husband John Pennycook, quarry master. Her mother died in Seattle, Washington, where some of her children were living.[4]

The Times obituary,[5] written by her friend and leading light in the Women’s Engineering Society and the Electrical Association for Women, Miss Caroline Haslett in 1942, abridged here, gives a good overview of Margaret’s life:-

“Margaret’s major contribution was to promote engineering for women – someone practical and one who took the initiative. She called herself an “engineer by marriage,” and her identification with the interests of her husband, Sir Ernest Moir, first baronet, the eminent civil engineer, had far-reaching results for women in the technical world. She travelled all over with him, entering fully into the development of all his great civil engineering enterprises, including the Forth Bridge and tunnels, docks, harbours, and railways. She would descend the workings to inspect the construction closely, ignoring the then very real dangers of compressed air. She was the first woman to walk under the Thames from Kent to Middlesex. Soon after the Boxer Rising she accompanied her husband on the construction of a railway in the interior of China. During the WW1 shell shortage she organized a Week End Relief Scheme whereby full-time operatives gained a much-needed respite, as their places were taken by Lady Moir and friends.

She herself worked for over 18 months as a successful lathe operator. She was hon. treasurer and hon. secretary of the Women’s Advisory Committee of the National War Savings Committee, and organized a sale of War Savings Certificates and War Bonds at big London stores and at Victoria Station. She was subsequently made O.B.E.. She was a founder member when the Women’s Engineering Society was formed after the war. Under her presidency a simplified engineering course for women was organized in 1930 at several polytechnics.

“She also saw opportunities for technological applications in the home, and was an early member and later president of the Electrical Association for Women, with a great belief in the necessity for the electrical education of women. It was largely her initiative which established the certificate and diploma examinations of the E.A.W.. It was at her house that the Hon. Lady Bailey and Amy Johnson lectured on their return from their flights, one round Africa and the other to Australia. She supported The Royal Ophthalmic Hospital, and the Over 30 Housing Association, and in the block of flats erected for single women living alone on modest means was an all-electric flat given by her.”

Margaret married Ernest William Moir of South Queensferry at Dalmeny, Scotland, on 1st June 1887 and they had three sons: Reginald (Rex), born in 1893, who died in 1915 of meningitis whilst serving in the army; Arrol, born in 1894, who on 14 June 1933 succeeded his father as 2nd Baronet Moir of Whitehanger in 1933; and Edward, born in 1907, who died soon after birth. They lived mostly in London, at 27, St John’s Wood Gate (1901 census), 1, Cumberland Terrace, Regent’s Park (1909), and later, at Whitehanger, Fernhurst, Surrey, (1911 census) but travelled widely.[6] Ships’ registers record them travelling together on the “SS America Maru” from Yokohama to San Francisco, in 1903, on the “Kronprinz Wilhelm”, Southampton to New York in October 1909, on the “Rotterdam” , Falmouth to New York, on 1th December 1915, not long after the death of Rex, and on the “Scythia”, from Falmouth to New York, in August 1927.

The impact of her efforts can be seen in the press reports around this time.

In September 1930, addressing the annual conference of the Women’s Engineering Society, she drew attention to the increasing strides being made in education and training for women in engineering, with electricity taking a lead, and in getting women taken more serious in employment:

Nottingham Evening Post 20.9.1930 page 3


That woman the engineer is taking herself quite as seriously as woman the doctor and woman the lawyer does, was made plain by the presidential address of Lady Moir last night….Often a boy gained certain knowledge of engineering and mechanics while at school, but the school life of a girl did not provide for it. “In future,” she said, “it would seem wise to give the girl equally with boy some simple engineering instruction, this is a subject which now seems to touch all our lives at some point or other.

To help to combat this deficiency in the education of the girl the Society started a simplified engineering course for women at the Borough Polytechnic. “At present complete training in some branches of engineering is still difficult, but there is evidence that these difficulties are being broken down in engineering as applied to the production and application of electricity.”

Lady Moir said that the Society had taken active steps to bring before those responsible for factory legislation the need for amendment to allow of the employment of women engineers in electrical stations during the night,: “we can congratulate ourselves as a society on having pioneers to introduce into factory legislation the conception that all women in industry are not necessarily merely operatives, but that they are now a serious factor to be reckoned within its administrative and technical branches.” Lady Moir referred to Lady Bailey, Mrs. Victor Bruce, Miss Amy Johnson, Miss Betty Carstairs, and Miss Spooner, and said, “The achievements so recently accomplished by women in spheres which have hitherto been accepted only possible to men should encourage all to further endeavour.[7]

In June 1931 she addressed the international conference of the Electrical Association for Women, in Glasgow, urging Scotland to take the lead shown by the English Board of Education in setting up a school on the domestic uses of electricity.[8]

Less than eight weeks before the dinner, on 31st January 1933, the Electrical Association for Women threw open its doors of its new premises at 20, Lower Regent Street, London S.W.1, “A new Centre of Electrical Housecraft”“almost under the wings of Eros”.[9]

In opening the new Headquarters, Lady Moir said that it should…

“prove a valuable centre for domestic electrical information, training, and experience, besides being conveniently situated as a meeting place for all women interested in this important modern development—Electricity. The clubroom had been planned and decorated on comfortable modern lines, and was now available to members. The library offered compendious information on electrical activity in every land. There was an electrical housecraft school where an expert, who was also a chef, would teach women the management of the modern home. Special courses of lectures and demonstrations would be arranged for the homemaker, teacher, woman demonstrator, and the countrywoman.

“The electrical equipment in use on the premises would be changed from time to time, so that students and visitors might see and try out the latest types of electrical domestic apparatus. In the new premises there are fascinating electric cookers, refrigerators, clocks, sun-ray heaters, and many kinds of electrical labour-saving devices.”[10]

The Director of the Association, Lady Moir’s colleague and friend Miss Haslett…

warmly thanked the big men of the industry for the financial assistance they had given to the Association. Women had experienced no jealousy whatever from men engineers at their joining the industry. The men seemed to have realised that in the realm of domestic electrification the women had got to take a part. The men had given a great deal of help and presented fittings and apparatus to the new Headquarters.”[11]


Sadly, Margaret was widowed just under three months later, on 14th June 1933, when Sir Ernest died. Nonetheless Margaret, 68, continued her life’s work. It was that December when she hosted Amy Johnson at her house at 41, Cadogan Square, Knightsbridge, Amy Johnson detailing to the large gathering of women engineers the handicap of flying with “The Jason”, an engine designed to run at 90 mph but which couldn’t reach 65 mph, and how she would personally overhaul the machine, except on the occasion when the mechanics of Vienna refused to let her touch it.[12]

Amy Johnson, the flying pioneer from Hull, served as the President of the Women’s Engineering Society from 1935 to 1937.

In April 1934 the Portsmouth Evening News carried Margaret’s further thoughts on the advance of women in industry, when expanding on the growth of the Electrical Association of Women to over 6,000 members; “Feminists are not all wearing shorts and plying powder puffs. Lots of them wear overalls and use a spanner”.[13]

And in April 1937 it was the turn of The Daily Herald to look into the future with Lady Moir and Caroline Haslett.

Daily Herald 10.4.1937 page 9



Guests will be invited not to retail the latest gossip, but to suggest labour-saving improvements. The women were speakers at a session of the annual conference of the Electrical Association for Women, which discussed “Kitchen planning from the woman’s point of view.”

It was Miss Caroline Haslett, director of the association, who suggested kitchen parties, and said Lady Moir was offering a prize of three guineas to the woman who made the most improvements in her kitchen during the coming year. The idea of a kitchen party, she expounded, was that you invite all your friends to your kitchen. They are asked to suggest improvements they think could be made, and in time you get your own back by visiting their kitchens and making your suggestions. Many aspects of kitchen planning were discussed, ranging from adequate accommodation for several servants to safety devices for the woman who has had to do all the work herself and have her children in the kitchen at the same time.

On 31st March 1941 Margaret attended a luncheon attended by “feminine veterans of the last war” in honour of her friend and colleague Caroline Haslett, presided over by Princess Marie Louise.[14] In January they both attended the memorial service for Amy Johnson,[15] who had died ferrying a plane the week earlier. Caroline had by then become Ernest Bevin’s first and chief adviser on women’s war work. 

fund appeal.png
1941 Appeal for the Margarets’ Fund: An appeal centre at Harrods helped to swell the Margarets’ Fund, to which Princess Margaret was the first contributor. Already five canteens and a hut have been provided. The four Margarets selling emblems were Margaret, Lady Moir, O.B.E. (Vice-President), Mrs. Gordon Moore (President for England), Miss Peggy Gordon Moore and Mrs. (Margaret) Illingworth.[16]
In June 1941 she could also be seen funding raising in Harrods, this time as one of four Margarets raising money for the Margarets’ Fund, of which she was Vice-President, Princess Margaret (then age 9) having made the first donation. So one of the more important Margarets of her day too?

margaret-headstoneMargaret died on 5th October 1942 at 40 Parkside, Knightsbridge at the age of 78. A memorial service was held at St. Margaret’s Westminster with Princess Marie Louise represented by Mrs High Adams.[17]An ever loving mother and a woman of great ability”, she was buried with her husband and son Rex in Brookwood Cemetery.[18] [19]


[1] Photographer unknown, taken in the 1900s. Archives of the Electrical Association for Women, held at the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET). Accessed from Wikipedia.

[2] ‘A Vision of the Home of the Future’ by Lady Moir, Morning Post, 11.7.1931 as reported in Wikipedia: Margaret, Lady Moir accessed 2.2.2019

[3] For more on the pioneers of the Women’s Engineering Society see the new book by Henrietta Heald “Magnificent Women and their Revolutionary Machines”, Unbound, 2019

[4] Wikipedia, Margaret, Lady Moir,_Lady_Moir

[5] Haslett, Caroline, Obituary: Margaret Lady Moir, Engineering for women, The Times 19.10.1942, p8

[6] Wikipedia, Margaret, Lady Moir,_Lady_Moir

[7] Nottingham Evening Post, 20.9.1930 p3

[8] Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail, 4.6.1931 p5

[9] Leeds Mercury, 10.1.1933 p6

[10] The Vote, 10.2.1933

[11] The Vote, 10.2.1933

[12] Hull Daily Mail, 10.12.1933

[13] Portsmouth Evening News, 25.4.1934 p4

[14] Liverpool Daily Post, 1.4.1941 p2

[15] Lancashire Evening Post, Wednesday 15.1.1941

[16] The Tatler, 18.6.1941, p5 ©Illustrated London News Group/Mary Evans. Image created courtesy of the British Library Board.

[17] The Scotsman, 16.10.1942 p4

[18] For more on Margaret Moir, consult the new essay in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, by Henrietta Heald, published online 12 July 2018

[19] See also: Anne Locker, Archives Manager of the Institute for Electrical Technology, Lives of Women Engineers rediscovered in latest update to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, drawing attention to many women in engineering and science in the year (2019) the IET celebrated its centenary.

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