Meet Elsie MacGill
Meet Elsie MacGill
Elsie impressed her professors and fellow students with how smart she was and how hard she worked. Thanks to her childhood art classes, she was especially good at drafting, or drawing, plans. But Elsie also liked to laugh and have fun. She made lots of friends at school.
During summers, “Miss Fix-It” worked in machine shops repairing motors. She learned more about many kinds of engines, hands-on.
In 1927, Elsie became the first woman in Canada to graduate with a degree in electrical engineering.
The title of this book, Meet Elsie MacGill, is an invitation and one well-worth accepting. Who is Elsie MacGill? An engineer, a woman, a Canadian, an energetic advocate for women’s rights, a dreamer who worked to her own standards, a determined person who went after what she wanted despite all that life threw at her. Also a good subject for a biography who was even recognized in her own lifetime and was the subject of her own comic books in the 1940s. Meet Elsie MacGill is a wonderful book about an interesting and inspiring subject, something that is both needed and welcome.
Elizabeth MacLeod has written an outstanding book. The language is flowing and exciting, and there are speech and thought bubbles that add humour and break up the text making the information easier to absorb. The book starts later in MacGill’s life to introduce who we are meeting and then provides a brief introduction to MacGill’s early life before continuing through her life. The book is well-researched, touching on many areas and giving a broad selection from an interesting life. Her accomplishments are amazing. Recovering from polio and being determined to continue to realize her dreams, MacGill stays true to her ideals and always works towards her goals. There is a good combination of biographical information that is placed in context. This is a well-written and readable book that is thoroughly enjoyable.
The illustrations by Mike Deas are as strong and beautiful as the story. Multiple techniques have been used, combining digital with watercolour and ink. The result is subtle and evocative, detailed and interesting. Each person and background is connected to the text and suggestive of where the story is going, including the aeronautical sketches such as those on the cover. The humour in the words is reflected in the drawings. There are many realistic touches, including Elsie’s always having her cane after her recovery from polio, and she ages in the pictures as she ages in the story.
On a personal note, I have direct experience of what Elsie MacGill went through in going into engineering. When I went to engineering school in the late 1970s, I was the only woman in my class. Like her, I succeeded by being one of the best in my year. Sometimes when I needed a break from studying, I would walk down the halls and look for previous women graduates in the class pictures. There were very few. It is completely inspiring that a woman in the 1920s had the courage and strength to go through the degree requirements and then went on to get a higher degree. I can only admire everything about this woman. I can also understand why she went into the field of women’s rights. She was working on this while I was in school, and, in fact, she blazed a trail that I was following whether I knew it or not.
While Meet Elsie MacGill is a broad introduction to a spectacular life, there is much more that could be easily accessed starting from the details given here. A simple search on the name Elsie MacGill can lead to much more information including the entries in the Canadian Encyclopedia and Canadian Flight. There are also the still active groups, the Canadian 99s and Women in Aviation International. As MacGill is well-known in some circles, she is referred to in the area of herstory (https://womynsherstory.blogspot.com/2009/10/elsie-macgill.html), and there is even an award in her name offered by the Northern Lights Aero Foundation as well as books for adults on both Elsie and her mother, also a remarkable woman.
Meet Elsie MacGill is a beautiful book, a pleasure to hold and to read. It will be a great addition to any library for those who enjoy biographies as well as anyone interested in history, aeronautics or engineering. The quality of this book makes me want to read all of the other books in this series, “Scholastic Canada Biography”, all written by Elizabeth MacLeod and Illustrated by Mike Deas: Meet Viola Desmond, Meet Chris Hadfield and Meet Tom Longboat.
Willow Moonbeam is a cataloguing librarian, former community college math professor and former mechanical engineer in the performance testing of gas turbine engines.