An Enigma decryption machine, called a “bombe.” This machine, made by National Cash Register of Dayton, Ohio, eliminated all possible encryptions from intercepted messages until it arrived at the correct solution. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Electrician

Ann McMullan was born in Newcastle upon Tyne and educated at Church High School. Graduating with a course in domestic science from Abbey College she immediately joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF).

The WAAF was mobilised in August 1939 and was formed for the purpose of substituting where possible women for RAF personnel during WWII. The initial scepticism and humour which greeted many WAAFs soon turned to respect and admiration as the women proved time and again their dedication and skill. They were an integral and vital part of the Royal Air Force’s war effort.

Ann served as a code and cypher officer at Fighter Command Headquarters, intercepting and translating enemy intelligence messages. Initially involved only to provide administrative support, women were increasingly recruited for their linguistic, physics and mathematical ability. Critically, women went from having their intellect dismissed to ultimately playing a key role in code-breaking. Before the invention of electronic computers, ‘computer’ was a job description, not a machine. Both men and women were employed as computers, but women were more prominent in the field. The meticulous work of code breakers cracked the secret of German wartime communication and played a crucial role in the final defeat of Germany.

After the war Ann continued to contribute towards the advancement of women and took up directorship of the Electrical Association for Women. The Electrical Association for Women (EAW) was a feminist and educational organisation founded to promote the benefits of electricity in the home and focused on ‘emancipation from drudgery’ by extending the benefits of electrification to middle class and working class homes and to engage women’s experience in the design of electrical appliances and model homes.

Tthe first meeting of the EAW was held in 1924 at the home of Lady Katharine Parsons (Mother of Rachel Mary Parsons who features as our 1900 Alumnae of the decade) and grew rapidly. It educated women about all aspects of electrical technology and its domestic use. In 1935 the EAW commissioned the All Electric House which featured all kinds of electrical appliances and gadgets from an electric cooker, refrigerator and fires in every room to drying cupboards, electric clocks and food warmers. By the 1940s The EAW’s Electrical Housecraft Certificate and diploma was a recognised qualification and covered electricity generation and transmission, home installation of meters, fuses, switches, cookery, refrigeration, kitchen planning and similar applications.

The EAW was voluntarily dissolved in 1986, it’s work encouraging women to use electricity in domestic settings had been accomplished and its pivotal influence in getting women out of the home and into the workplace had been achieved.