Book Review: The Doors of Opportunity

Did you know that a Suffragette invented the UK's electrical plug?

Dame Caroline Haslett was an electrical engineer who foresaw the way that electricity could be used to remove domestic drudgery from women's lives. There is a slim biography of her, written by her sister, which is sadly out of print.

Book cover featuring a portrait of Dame Caroline.

Luckily, the book is available for free on

It is a curious book. It dwells on her faith as much as her technical prowess. Her waistline is the subject of wry amusement. There's also the (naturally) dated views of the day to contend with along with an odd segue into spiritualism.

And, of course, you'll see nothing much has changed in the last 100 years.

With the Women's Engineering Society safely launched, Caroline found that she had two recurring types of problem with which to contend. The first was to deal with the difficulties that arose at factory floor level from the intrusion of women into what had been traditionally a masculine preserve, difficulties which she herself had area to admirably tackled by the enlightened management of the Cochran Boiler Company.
The second, and probably the more important task, was dealing with the problem posed by the steadily increasing number of highly trained women competing with men for managerial posts in the world of engineering. She was not interested in the problems merely for their own sake, but in the people behind the problems and in the whole field of industrial relationships.

It isn't enough to merely launch a product or service. It takes years to embed knowledge, experience, and desire into users. Haslett's power was recognising that the advantages of electricity weren't self-evident. It took a sustained campaign of education to get the public to understand the why and how of a new invention.

There's also some delightful name-dropping:

Inevitably she met some of the most famous people of the day, among them Professor Albert Einstein at the World Power Conference in Berlin in 193o. My sister was in fact the first woman to "defile" the rostrum that Hitler had used. The Berliner Stedtblatt, under the headline, "Frau and Technik", printed an interview that one of its reporters had had with her. It described her as a likeable and intelligent woman and quoted her 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 children of these inventors.

If you want to understand how the development of domestic electricity use in the UK happened, this is an interesting and useful book. It perfectly demonstrates how one headstrong person can influence the world.

It is a stunning look at how feminism directly influenced industrial policy.

Caroline herself wrote a book - "Problems Have No Sex" - which is completely unavailable as far as I can see. If any readers know where I can obtain a copy, please leave a comment.

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Doors of Opportunity”

  1. Linda Perham says:

    Terry - you could try The Women’s Library now at the LSE. Good luck & best wishes. Linda Perham

  2. Stephen Tordoff says:

    I'm not sure how accessible they are to the general public, but the University of Cambridge has two copies of "Problems Have No Sex" in stock - one at the University Library, and one at Murray Edwards college.


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