Caroline Harriet Haslett was born on 17th August 1895 in Worth, a small West Sussex village, near Ashdown Forest. She was the second of five children, the first of whom died as an infant, leaving her the eldest with two younger sisters and a brother. Her parents provided a stable, loving home and the children enjoyed active pursuits with Caroline always in the lead, often supporting her youngest sister, Rosalind, in the rough and tumble of family life.
She won a scholarship to Haywards Heath High School in 1906. Uninterested in academic study or needlework, she was considered a mediocre scholar, although she loved botany and read voraciously. Indeed, shortly before her eighteenth birthday, her headmistress suggested to her parents that further schooling would be a waste of time.
Attracted to a career in business, she enrolled at a London commercial college. Early in 1914, having finished her course, she began work as a junior clerk in the London office of the Cochran Boiler Company, run by the brother of family friends. It suited Haslett perfectly. Her father, a railway fitter, had taught her how to use tools properly.
At Cochran she worked her way up, learning to draw up quotations and specifications for the boilers and steam generating plant, which the company manufactured, taking responsibility and discussing business with clients. By 1918, she was managing the London office. She learned so much about boilers that, at her request, she was sent to the company works at Annan, Scotland. Here, she received practical engineering training designing boilers.
Haslett’s period at the Cochran Boiler Company coincided with World War I (1914-18), which gave many women opportunities to enter professions, such as science and engineering, that hitherto had been reserved for men.
It was also the era of the suffragette movement — Haslett joined the suffragettes in 1914, but after one attempt to chalk slogans on the pavement in Whitehall near the Houses of Parliament, she abandoned demonstrations. A kindly policeman had told her she was too young to be arrested and suggested that she go home. She went.
In 1917, women over the age of 30, who were householders, the wives of householders, occupiers of property with an annual rent of £5, or graduates of British universities were given the vote. In 1918 they were made eligible to stand for Parliament and in 1928 all women gained the right to vote.