Queen of the Hurricanes

Elizabeth (Elsie) MacGill was born in Vancouver, Canada to parents who were prominent in the community. She was homeschooled and was able to enter college at the age of 16. She decided to study engineering and became the first woman to receive a degree in electrical engineering.

While Elsie was in college she got a job in machine shops working on electrical motors. This is when she found out about a new field of aeronautical engineering as a result of the work she was doing.

Before Elsie was due to graduate, she became a polio victim. She was told that she would be confined to a wheelchair but refused to accept that future. She learned to walk with canes. Both her study of engineering and her response to polio defined her as a woman of determination.

When Elsie graduated she took a job with a business in Michigan which was producing aircraft. This job spurred her to pursue a master’s degree in Aeronautical Engineering. She became the first woman to earn an MS degree in Aeronautical Engineering. She then earned a Ph.D. from MIT.

After her education was complete, Elsie took positions at aerospace companies where she distinguished herself in both engineering and leadership positions. With the start of World War II, Canada was called upon to supply fighter aircraft to the Royal Air Force (RAF). Elsie was assigned the duty of assuring that Canada’s production goals for the Hurricane jet could be met. She was also responsible for designing adaptations for the Hurricanes to operate in winter, including deicing systems. She became known as the Queen of the Hurricanes as a result of meeting the production goals necessary for World War II.

Elsie was also a strong advocate for women’s rights, especially the right to vote, and the removal of abortion from the criminal code. She was the co-author of a report of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada. She also received the Order of Canada award, one of the highest awards a Canadian citizen can receive.

Elsie MacGill was a hidden hero who busted barriers limiting women and those with disabilities. While she was recognized for her achievements, that recognition only came after she fought for herself as a woman who also had a physical impairment. She demonstrated that neither gender nor physical limitations should have any bearing on a person’s ability to get the job done.

* * *

“I have received many engineering awards, but I hope I will also be remembered as an advocate for the rights of women and children.” – Elsie MacGill

How To Use

Useful guides for incorporating messages into discussion.