April 15, 2024

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

March is Women’s History month, so at I, Science we are highlighting some of the incredible women who have contributed to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and maths - who have often been overlooked in our textbooks.

Rachel Parsons was born to the wealthy Parsons family. They were a family of engineers: Her father, Sir Charles Parson, was inventor of the Compound Steam Turbine and founder of CA Parsons and Company, which manufactured turbines for use in power stations.  

Rachel Parsons was the first woman to read mechanical sciences at Cambridge University, however, was not allowed to graduate from the course (like all women who attended before 1948). During WWI, she became the director of her fathers’ factory and oversaw the training of women to replace the men who were enlisted in the War.  In 1918, she became a member of the Royal Institution, and in 1919 her and her mother Katharine Parsons were among the co-founders of the Womens’ Engineering Society. Rachel Parsons was its first president from 1919-1921.  

During this time, she also co-founded the company Atalanta, which produced machine models and only employed women. Due to her large inheritance, in her later life she owned multiple properties and lived as a society hostess.