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British Industrial History

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Elizabeth M. Kennedy

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Elizabeth Margaret Kennedy (1868-1957) was the president of the Women's Engineering Society (WES) from 1932 to 1934. She worked for the London-based machinery manufacturer Messrs J. B. Stone and Co, initially as a shorthand typist before being appointed to joint managing director in 1915. Shortly afterwards, she was promoted to managing director and remained in this position until her retirement in 1934.

Despite her commercial achievements as a female engineer and business woman post-World War I, including opportunities to travel to America, Kennedy remained adamant that she did not label herself as a feminist, stating in her WES retiring president's address: "I am not a feminist"..."I have never been one, and although I may offend some of my women friends by saying so, I do not think it was the fact that they chained themselves to railings which obtained the vote for women. They showed their worth during the war. It is the ability in either men or women which should give them the opportunity to do what they want"

As a teenager, Kennedy had aspirations to become a reporter for a London daily newspaper. She obtained a position at a suburban weekly paper but was rejected as the editor was "under the impression that it was a young man whom he had appointed".

Kennedy subsequently found employment as a shorthand typist with J. B. Stone and Co, a company that initially specialised in wood-working and wood-working machinery, based in east London. The business gradually expanded to include machining tools for metals. She was appointed Secretary in 1915 when J. B. Stone & Co. turned into a limited liability company. In 1915 she was appointed Joint Managing Director and shortly after, Managing Director. She is credited as being "instrumental in putting the nibbling machines, Alligator belt fasteners and other specialities on the market". The Nibbling machine was used for rapid cutting of sheet metal. Kennedy remained Managing Director until her voluntary retirement in June 1934.

Kennedy became a member of the Women's Engineering Society in 1925. She was appointed President of the society in 1932 and re-elected in 1933.

In 1927 she gave a lecture titled A Business Woman's Trip to America as well as a debate on The Relative Importance of Commercial and Technical Engineering under Present-Day Conditions. As part of the latter event, Kennedy argued from the commercial point of view against Verena Holmes who debated for the technical side. During this debate, Kennedy stressed the importance of harmony between the commercial and technical roles in engineering because "[Invention] cannot progress without finance" yet still required "vision and enterprise to produce what is needed".

Kennedy presented her views on the post-war trade depression in her retiring president's address, written in 1934. She speculated that a potential cause was due to "colossal over-production during the end of and shortly after the war, when firms had been speeded up to meet great demands". When these products were no longer required, manufacturers were forced to buy back excess stock to prevent them from being "sold off cheaply and flooding the markets".

Kennedy paid many visits to the United States during her employment with Messrs J. B. Stone & Co. Ltd, spanning a time frame when America had great prosperity as well as during the last years of depression.

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