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Alice Jacqueline Perry (24 October 1885 – 21 April 1969) was the first woman in Europe to graduate with a degree in engineering. She was born in Galway coming from a family that had strong engineering traditions.
Her father, James Perry, was County Surveyor in Galway West and, together with his brother, founded the Galway Electric Light Company. Her uncle, John Perry was a Fellow of the Royal Society and was well known for inventing the navigational gyroscope.
Born in 1885 in Wellpark, Perry graduated from secondary school with a scholarship to study at the Royal University, Galway, where she excelled in maths. Starting out with a degree in the arts, Perry turned her focus to engineering, in which she graduated in the Autumn of 1906.
Today, Alice Perry is the inspiration behind the the Alice Perry Engineering Building at the National University of Ireland Galway.
Early Career in Ireland & UK (1906 – 1922)
Perry’s ability for her chosen profession as an engineer shone through in October 1906 when she not only graduated but achieved a first class honours grade in Civil Engineering.
Perry was set to continue her academic career at postgraduate level, but unfortunately her father died and she could not take up this opportunity. She did however take up his post and was the acting County Surveyor for five months until April 1907, making her the only female to take this position.
Although she applied for the permanent job when it arose, she did not meet the age or experience criteria, but she came joint second among seventeen candidates. It was remarked in the Connacht Champion (dated 23rd February 1907) “the many and arduous duties of County Surveyor have never been better or more faithfully discharged than since they were taken over by Miss Perry… every member of the County Council has borne willing testimony to her outstanding ability”. She remains the only woman to have been a County Surveyor (County Engineer) in Ireland.
In 1908 she moved to London with her sisters, where she worked as a Factory Inspector for the Home Office. a position that involved the monitoring of laws regarding women at work in industrial settings. One of the main responsibilities of this role concerned exposure to toxic substances in factory environments, such as lead and mercury.
Perry retired from her inspector’s position in 1921 and became interested in poetry, first publishing in 1922.
Later Years as a Poet & Christian Scientist (1923 – 1969)
Perry moved to Glasgow from London, at which point she converted from Presbyterianism to Christian Science in 1915. She continued to work as a factory inspector and met and married John (Bob) Shaw on 30 September 1916. Shaw was a soldier who died in 1917 on the Western Front.
In 1923, after retiring from her work as a factory inspector, she moved to Boston, the headquarters of Christian Science at that time. Until her death in 1969, Perry continued to work within the Christian Science movement as a poetry editor and practitioner, publishing seven books of poetry. She made three visits back to Ireland, one of which in 1948 included a visit to the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Galway. Perry died on the 21st of August 1969 in Boston.
Alice Perry was a pioneer, the first woman to smash the glass ceiling for women in engineering. Although she could not take the opportunity to continue to postgraduate level, she was commended for her work as County Surveyor and made her mark on history as the first female graduate in a male-only discipline.
You can read more about her life here.
The Alice Perry Engineering Building at NUI Galway
This world-class teaching and research facility ushers in a new era for Engineering at the University, which has an excellent reputation in Engineering education. The building has been designed to be a teaching tool in itself, with exposed construction techniques and an array of ecological building methods.
The Alice Perry Engineering Building accommodates some 1,200 students and 120 staff in a four-storey architectural gem with nearly 400 rooms. This 14,250 sqm building supports an emerging generation of engineers, engaged in a new wave of technologies, embracing innovation and entrepreneurship.
The Alice Perry Engineering Building was designed by Taylor Architects/RMJM.
Voted as Irelands favourite building in the Public Choice 2012 RIAI Irish Architecture Awards the building received 40% of the votes cast. It has captivated the imagination of students, donors and academics and has culminated in an evolutionary teaching space, which itself behaves as a teaching tool.
Alice Perry as Inspiration for IEEE Games Entertainment & Media Conference 2018
Despite Alice Perry’s achievement as the first woman engineering graduate it is clear that her career path was challenging – she was not accepted in a permanent role as county engineer, a decision that was undoubtedly influenced by her gender. This led to her choosing a less prestigious career as a factory inspector. Later, after the first World War, she succeeded in re-inventing herself as a poet and Christian Scientist – this was a fascinating career transformation at a time when most people stayed in the same profession throughout their working lives.
This, I believe, shows an ability to re-invent her career path and sets an example for us today where women continue to be challenged in the male-dominated fields of STEM. One of the reasons I feel a strong affinity with Gaming and Interactive Media research is that it is a field where many examples of strong female leadership have emerged. Perhaps this is because the activities that lead to success in GEM require a broader spectrum of interdisciplinary skills than the more traditional fields of STEM research.
The organising committee has sought to organise this year’s GEM conference program around our theme of “Augmented Spaces & Virtual Worlds” and we have an excellent panel of speakers to address various aspects of this theme.
As conference chair I am particularly pleased with our very strong and balanced lineup of plenary speakers. It is particularly fitting and appropriate that we will stage our conference in a venue that honours the historic tradition of Alice Perry and our Engineering College at NUI Galway.
Peter Corcoran, Conference Chair IEEE GEM 2018