Phoebe Sarah Hertha Ayrton (28 April 1854 – 26 August 1923) was a British engineer, mathematician, physicist and inventor, and suffragette. Known in adult life as Hertha Ayrton, born Phoebe Sarah Marks, she was awarded the Hughes Medal by the Royal Society for her work on electric arcs and ripple marks in sand and water.
In the late nineteenth century, electric arc lighting was in wide use for public lighting. The tendency of electric arcs to flicker and hiss was a major problem. In 1895, Hertha Ayrton wrote a series of articles for the Electrician, explaining that these phenomena were the result of oxygen coming into contact with the carbon rods used to create the arc. In 1899, she was the first woman ever to read her own paper before the Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE). Her paper was entitled “The Hissing of the Electric Arc”.
Shortly thereafter, Ayrton was elected the first female member of the IEE; the next woman to be admitted to the IEE was Dorothy Smith in 1958. She petitioned to present a paper before the Royal Society but was not allowed because of her sex and “The Mechanism of the Electric Arc” was read by John Perry in her stead in 1901.
n 1904, she became the first woman to read a paper before the Royal Society when she was allowed to read her paper “The Origin and Growth of Ripple Marks” and this was later published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society. In 1906, she was awarded the Royal Society’s prestigious Hughes Medal “for her experimental investigations on the electric arc, and also on sand ripples.”
Ayrton delivered seven papers before the Royal Society between 1901 and 1926, the last posthumously.  She also presented the results of her research before audiences at the British Association and the Physical Society. Ayrton’s interest in vortices in water and air inspired the Ayrton fan, or flapper, used in the trenches in the First World War to dispel poison and foul gas. Ayrton fought for its acceptance which took a year from her offering it to the War Office to being used in the forces in 1916, and organised its production, over 100,000 being used on the Western Front.
“Hertha Ayrton.” Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hertha_Ayrton. Accessed 21 May 2022.
Biography from the Science Museum:
The life and material culture of Hertha Marks Ayrton (1854-1923): suffragette, physicist, mathematician and inventor
Suffragette, physicist, mathematician and inventor: in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century when few women had access to opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), Englishwoman Hertha Marks Ayrton held all these roles and was a strong advocate for social justice, especially suffrage for women.
The Woman Who Tamed Lightning:
The woman who tamed lightning | Hertha Marks Ayrton | BBC Ideas
Hertha Marks Ayrton was, what you might call, a bright spark. This is the inspiring story of how her vision of an electrified future ended up shaping how we …
Patent for her draftman’s dividing line:
Go back to article: The life and material culture of Hertha Marks Ayrton (1854-1923): suffragette, physicist, mathematician and inventor Cover page of US Patent 310,450 ‘Draftsman’s Dividing Instrument’, filed on 3 May 1884 and granted on 6 January 1885
- Jewish Women’s Archive Biography
- The Electric Arc via Cambridge Library