- Vancouver, Canada
- Death date
- Associated organizations
- Fairchild Aircraft Limited, Canadian Car and Foundry Company Limited, Association of Professional Engineers of Ontario, International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute, the Royal Aeronautical Society, the Engineering Institute of Canada, Order of Canada, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Canadian Organizing Committee
- Fields of study
- Electrical Engineering, Aeronautical Engineer
- Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame, certificate of airworthiness in the acrobatic category, 1953 Societies Medal, Julian C. Smith Memorial Medal in 1973, Amelia Earhart Medal in 1975, honorary doctorates from Toronto in 1973, Windsor in 1976, Queens in 1978, and York in 1978
Elizabeth Muriel Gregory "Elsie" MacGill, nicknamed the "Queen of Hurricanes", was the first woman to graduate as a electrical engineer from the University of Toronto, and with a masters degree in aeronautical engineering from the University of Michigan. MacGill was employed as a chief aeronautical engineer of the Canadian Car and Foundry Co, designing the Maple Leaf Trainer aircraft in Montreal. During WWII, she went on to design the first winterized version of the Hawker Hurricane fighter plane in Fort William, Ontario .
Elsie was born on March 27th, 1905 in Vancouver, British Columbia. Her mother was Helen Gregory MacGill, a suffrage, newspaper reporter, and first woman judge in British Columbia. Helen actions as a Judge and influential figure in politics pushed for changes in legislature that would improve the lives of woman and children; this would eventually impact Elsie later on in her personal ideals as a feminist. Elsie's father was James Henry MacGill, a prominent lawyer at the time. He too would inspire his daughter towards greater feats of accomplishment .
Inspired from her families extensive education and contributions to society, Elsie made it her goal to attend the University of Toronto and graduate as an engineer. Thus, in 1927 Elsie successfully graduated from the University of Toronto as the first female electrical engineer to graduate from the university. Two years later, despite suffering from polio and being forced to take her final exams from bed, in 1929 she graduated from the University of Michigan as the first woman to receive a degree in aeronautical engineering. Eventually in 1933 she attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to further her post-graduate work into aerodynamics .
After completing her studies in aeronautical engineering at MIT, in 1934 she was hired as an engineer at Fairchild Aircraft Limited at Longueuil, Quebec; during her time there she worked on stress analysis of the prototype Fairchild Super 71, which had the first stressed-skin, all-metal fuselage designed and built in Canada. After four years of working on the designs, she had left to pursue a position as the Chief Aeronautical Engineer at the Fort William (Thunder Bay) plant of Canadian Car and Foundry Company Limited. It was here that she became the first woman to develop a design for an airplane. Known as the Maple Leaf II, it was a two seat single engine biplane designed as a primary trainer. After less then a year of the final product being developed, the Maple Leaf II had received its certificate of airworthiness in the acrobatic category, a feat unheard of in such a short span of time .
In 1939, during her stay as the Chief Aeronautical Engineer, she was informed a couple weeks before the start of WWII by the Canadian Government that the facility would be used as a staging ground for the large scale production of military aircraft. With a staff of over 4500, 40% of which were women , Elsie was able to successfully produce 2 Hurricane fighters per day, totaling to 1,451 models produced from the time span of 1939-1942, giving her the nickname "Queen of Hurricanes." Eventually the government requested that they begin construction of the new Curtis Dive Bomber in 1942, in which until 1943 under Elsie's leadership was able to produce 835 Curtis Hell Divers for the U.S. Navy .
Continuing into her career, in 1946 Elsie became the first woman to serve as the Canadian Technical Adviser to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Here she helped draft the international air worthiness warning for commercial aircraft. In 1947 she then served as the chairman of the stress analysis committee at ICAO, again serving as the first woman to hold the position. She went on to hold fellowships in the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute, the Royal Aeronautical Society, and the Engineering Institute of Canada. She was a member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and the first woman member of the Association of Professional Engineers of Ontario. The America Society of Women Engineers honored her in 1953 with the Societies Medal, the first time the distinction was granted to someone outside the United States. In 1971 the Canadian Government recognized her substantial contributions and appointed her an Officer of the Order of Canada (O.C). She then received the Engineering Institute of Canada Julian C. Smith Memorial Medal in 1973, followed by the Amelia Earhart Medal in 1975, and received four honorary doctorates from Toronto in 1973, Windsor in 1976, Queens in 1978, and York in 1978 .
In addition to her aeronautical engineering pursuits, Elsie served as a strong feminist that was heavily active in many Canadian women's rights organizations. In 1967 she was one of the seven appointees to the Royal Commission on the Status of Women, and prior to her death she had accepted an appointment to the Canadian Organizing Committee, where she would serve in a committee in 1981. However, she tragically passed away in 1980 before she could serve the position, where she died in Cambridge, Massachusetts from a fatal car crash. After her death, in 1983 she was introduced to Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame .