Working 'light' with electricity
Haslett's feminism was very practical. To her the most effective means of giving women independence was to free them from unnecessary drudgery, and she early saw the potential of electricity as a labour saving agent. In 1922, while secretary to the Women's Engineering Society
(WES), she had conducted a "domestic labour saving competition" to find out what women most wanted to free them from unnecessary work in the home. The winning appliance was a dishwasher, followed by a vacuum cleaner.
When, two years later, she was appointed director of the newly-formed Electrical Association for Women
she saw the association's potential immediately.
As a young girl Haslett had loathed housework. She said later that it all "seemed a waste of time ... The kitchen stove burnt coal which had to be brought in buckets from the outhouse, its flues had to be cleaned and the stove polished with blacklead by hand. On washing days the scullery copper was lit and it took all day to get the piles of dirty linen washed ... and so the work of the house went on: sweeping, scrubbing, polishing and dusting, all done by hand. No wonder Mother got tired".
During Haslett's childhood at the beginning of the 20th century, the British electrical industry was in its infancy. Michael Faraday
had demonstrated the possibility of the electric motor, and through his discovery of electromagnetic induction in 1831 had shown that electricity could be generated by mechanical means. It was the development of the practical incandescent lamp in the late 1870s, by several people including Joseph Swan in Britain and Thomas Edison in the USA, that sparked the development of the manufacture and distribution of electricity (see History of UK public supply
). The first public electricity supply companies had been established in the 1880s.
Demand for electric lighting dominated the early development of the electrical industry. However, lighting was used largely at night. Electricity companies became interested in other domestic uses when they realized they could supply a daytime load without investing in additional generating equipment. They began searching for the means to popularize other uses. Electric appliances for heating, cooking and ironing were followed by appliances such as vacuum cleaners, refrigerators and dishwashers.
Even so, the spread of domestic electricity was slow and it was perceived to be very expensive. With the development of the UK's National Grid in the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s, the price of electricity fell steadily. This was the environment in which the Haslett and the EAW would operate.
The EAW offered Haslett a wider scope to work for the cause of women's progress generally. Indeed, the EAW was permeated by her ideals and its success was largely due to her ceaseless work.
She edited the association's journal The Electrical Age for Women up until her last illness in 1956. The journal first appeared in June 1926. Its contributors ranged from IEE members writing about electricity supply and "How electricity is made" to articles about home lighting and refrigeration of food. Glamorous photographs accompanied short biographies of prominent members like Lady Astor and Mrs de Ferranti, and news of branch activities and conferences appeared in each issue.
Other EAW publications followed, always aimed at the general reader and full of practical advice about all aspects of practical housecraft, the use of electrical appliances, and information about electricity couched in non-technical terms. Haslett edited the Electrical Handbook for Women, which first appeared in 1934 and went through six editions during her lifetime, and in 1949 she wrote Problems Have No Sex.
As mentioned earlier, education was one of the primary aims of the EAW. A lecture series on the simple aspects of electricity and its use in the home, led to the formation of a panel of women able to give talks on the domestic applications of electricity. Haslett persuaded Mr. Beauchamp of the Electrical Development Association to give a course of EAW lectures for women in the electrical industry, and requests for EAW lectures began to flood in.
In addition to educating women about the use of electricity, the EAW saw the need to educate young people in the principles of electricity and its applications. Haslett's summer school for teachers was supplemented by schools visits, where she gave lectures to teachers and schoolchildren throughout Britain, often lecturing to as many as 300 pupils and their teachers. It was possible for schools to become affiliated to the EAW, which sponsored essay competitions, and girls could sit an EAW-set examination in housecraft, thereby raising its status for young women.