Laura Annie Willson
Laura Annie Willson was born in 1877 in Halifx, Yorkshire, and was one of the founding members of the Women's Engineering Society, as well as the first female member of the Federation of house Builders.
Willson helped run her husband's successful machining works in Halifax. She became involved in the trade union movement, was branch secretary of the Women's Labour League in Halifax in 1907 and was the secretary of the Halifax branch of the Women's Social and Political Union in 1906.
In 1907 she was sentenced to 14 days in prison after taking place in a weavers' strike. Soon after, she was one of 75 women arrested after a suffragette rally at Caxton Hall, sentenced to another 14 days.
Willson was a joint-director of the Smith Barker & Willson lathe-making factory which produced munitions during World War I. Here she supervised the female workforce and established a works canteen to ensure that her laborers were properly nourished. This model was later adopted by factories across the United Kingdom. She was awarded an MBE for her contribution to 'Women's Work in Munitions' in 1917.
In 1919 she co-founded the Women's Engineering Society (WES) along with Rachel Parsons, Margaret, Lady Moir, Lady Katharine Parsons, Eleanor Shelley-Rolls, Margaret Rowbotham and Janetta Mary Ornsby, and was president from 1926-1928. The goal of the organization was to protect the positions that women had gained in industry during the war, as well as promoting equal opportunities in engineering.
She was the first woman member of the Federation of House Builders which constructed houses for workers in Halifax. She was also a founding member of the Electrical Association for Women in 1924. In 1927 she moved to Surrey with her husband and continued her trade as a builder.