Main content

Hertha Ayrton

Episode 5 of 8

Science geek entertainer Helen Arney tells Matthew Parris why she has chosen Hertha Ayrton, the pioneering Victorian physicist, inventor and suffragette, as her great life.

Helen Arney, self confessed science nerd, stand-up entertainer, and once nicknamed a "geek songstress", tells Matthew Parris why she's chosen Hertha Ayrton, the pioneering Victorian physicist, inventor and suffragette, as her great life. Ayrton, we hear, was the first woman to be admitted into membership of what is today known as the IET, the Institution of Engineering and Technology. Their archivist Anne Locker knows Ayrton's life and works and fields the questions from Matthew and Helen.

They talk about how Hertha (1854-1923) overcame considerable obstacles to be the first woman who was proposed for the fellowship of the Royal Society. Her candidature was refused on the grounds that as a married woman she had no legal existence in British law. This did not stop her from patenting over 20 of her inventions, which included a large electric fan designed to disperse mustard gas from the Trenches during the First World War. Fascinated by electricity, her achievements also ranged across mathematics and physics.

Helen Arney, who's one third of the Festival of the Spoken Nerd, the comedy group that makes science entertaining for audiences, explains why she's championing Ayrton. Hertha's father was a Jewish immigrant, a watchmaker from Poland, who hawked goods at markets. Nonetheless, Hertha was among the first generation of women to study at Girton College, Cambridge.

Producer: Mark Smalley.

Available now

30 minutes

Credits

Role Contributor
Presenter Matthew Parris
Interviewed Guest Helen Arney
Interviewed Guest Anne Locker
Producer Mark Smalley

Broadcasts

Great Rock and Roll Lives

Stories of inspiration from great musicians from Bowie to Billie Holliday

Download this programme

Subscribe to this programme or download individual episodes.

Podcast