I have at last had some good news from the Women’s Library at LSE – they have found the Women’s Provisional Club (WPC) archive! Dora was a member from the 1930s to the 1950s and I believe the WPC was a source of female support, inspiration and powerful contacts for her. The Librarian has sent me a few pages to whet my appetitie, before I visit the Women’s Library in person in November (fingers crossed).
Dora was treasurer for a number of years. Sybil Campbell (1889-1977) was a barrister and became Britain’s first female judge in 1945. She studied at Girton College, Cambridge. Miss LD Baynes was Assistant Principal at the War Office in the Second World War. Miss Dorothy Higgins (1892-1970?) was a radiographer and close friend of Dr Dulcie Staveley (1898-1985) who was the Royal Free Hospital’s first woman radiologist. Rose Standfield was a professional singer. Gertrude Leverkus (1899-1976) was a pioneering architect, qualifying from UCL in 1919.
Ethel Wood (1876-1970) was a philanthropist and campaigner for women’s rights who founded the WPC. She was a director at Samson Clark advertising agency in the 1920s and was also the third president of Women’s Advertising Club of London, from 1925 to 1926. In an article entitled Advertising as a career for women, Wood argued that advertising was a democratic profession with only one real acid test: work that “brings results”. Wood concluded: “Having said so much about sex in advertising, in my opinion the more it is forgotten, and folks judged by the quality and effectiveness of their work and not by their gender, the better, not only for business, but for the world at large.”
I can’t wait to learn more about these powerful women friends of Dora’s! The Barcelona Restaurant, where the WPC met in the post-war years, was in Beak Street, Soho, and was a haunt for British surrealist artists and other creatives.
The talks I gave about Dora went well and you can watch the presentation I gave at the British Society for the History of Mathematics conference below. It’s a short one – only 17 minutes – but it developed into an interesting Q&A with the participants. Most of them shared my frustration with the lack of documentary evidence and the consequent holes in Dora’s story. One of my fellow presenters, talking about women mathematicians in the astronomy department at Cambridge University, had had to find reference to her women of interest by reading the ‘acknowledgements’ section of academic papers from the period. The complex mathematics that the women had contributed to various projects was regarded in the same way as the typists who wrote up the papers. It must have been a long, tedious trawl through the archives to find these snippets and the glimpse they gave into the women’s work and status.
I am currently doing a short course on ‘editing and pitching your novel’ with Curtis Brown Creative, part of a major literary agency. I have been going through my novel scene by scene, making notes of what happens, how it moves the story forward and where corrections are needed to deal with both structural issues and more minor tweaks. I want the book to be the best it can be, however it ends up being published. The next part of the course will help me refine and improve my submission package, but I have to accept that it is still a long shot. Everyone seems to have written a novel during the pandemic and publishers have no gaps in their schedules till 2023, I’m told. We shall see.
Via this website I was contacted by Dora’s godson, now a retired cardiologist. It was thrilling to speak to someone so close to her and he was able to tell me more about her life at Morar and in London. His 21st birthday party had been held at the Metcalfs’ apartment in Kensington. I hadn’t realised that they used to drive up to Morar and bought property in Otley (where they lived for their final years) as a way station. I’d assumed they had travelled by train to the Highlands. Like everyone else, though, he knew nothing of her wartime activities so I’m still none the wiser there!
I will be speaking about Dora’s life and work via Zoom at the National Museum of Computing on 17 June at 6.30pm. You can find out more and book a ticket here. The emphasis for this talk is on how her career led to her role in the Second World War, managing the contract for supplying bombes to the Bletchley Park codebreakers.
Then on Thursday 15 July I will be speaking about Dora at the British Society for the History of Mathematics conference, more info here. This talk focuses more on how her mathematical skills were deployed to create the information services industry.
Meanwhile, the anthology in which I have a piece about my journey to Swordlands is due out 15 June, available for pre-order now from 8D Press. It is a limited edition print run of only 500 copies, so grab your numbered copy soon!
I am writing this in the Highlands. The priest at Loch Morar very kindly let me into the Lovat church on the loch, whose round tower must have been so resonant for Dora. I have updated the photos on the St Cumin’s Church page with some images that I took of the church and its gorgeous stained glass. This is the view from the church today:
The blog post about Dora at the Women in Tech and Science Ireland tells how she was the founder of the information services industry in the 1920s. Dora quickly learned that most businessmen and government department managers lacked the vision and mathematical skills to understand how to make full use of the new mechanical calculators and tabulators. She was a mathematician and an entrepreneur and saw the potential for providing services rather than hardware.
I have been contacted by the National Museum of Computing who wanted to hear all about Dora’s role in the computing industry. They are particularly interested in her WW2 history as the museum is adjacent to Bletchley Park and the story of BTM’s struggles to supply the bombe machines and their operators is not well known. We also discussed Dora’s role as a female pioneer in a male dominated world. I have been invited to give a talk about her in June 2021 and this will appear on the NaMoC events page in due course.
This week I’m meeting with colleagues from the British Society for the History of Mathematics to discuss what we are going to present at their online People, Places, Practices Conference in July. The general topic is ‘women in computing’ but we need to be a bit more specific! More news on this when I have further details to share.
I have a short piece in an anthology of Scottish writing coming out this summer. There are 23 Scottish women writers featured altogether, each inspired by the sensual writing of Nan Shepherd. My piece is about my journey to reach Dora’s remote home on the shore of Loch Morar. The anthology is called Lucent and it will be published by 8D Press as a high quality limited edition, a collector’s item!
This website tells the story of my great aunt, Dora Metcalf. She was an amazing pioneer in the information services industry and she was the first female tech entrepreneur. I’ve written a novel based on her life, rather than a biography, as there are unknowns and secrets that leave tantalising blanks in her history. Here though, I have created pages that provide the historical background to her life. Please explore!
At the moment I am seeking a publisher for the novel and I hope to blog about the publishing journey, give readers some exclusive extracts, let you know about upcoming events, share blog posts about Dora from other sites and run some promotions and giveaways. Hit the subscribe button at the foot of the page to make sure you don’t miss out.
So, what news? This week is British Science Week and Dora is being featured on the Women Who Meant Business blog. This is a fantastic site that tells the stories of early businesswomen, creating a FT – She 100. There are some fascinating unsung heroines on there.