IT’S International Day of Women in Engineering on June 23, So Glasgow Science Centre asked its GSC at Home team to nominate its favourite female engineers.

Dorothy Donaldson Buchanan: Britain’s first female civil engineer

Dorothy Donaldson Buchanan was born in Langholm, in 1899 and was awarded a degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Edinburgh in 1923. She became the UK’s first female chartered engineer after qualifying for membership to the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1927. 

Buchanan began her career after graduation, when she travelled to London and started working for Sir Ralph Freeman. One of her most auspicious moments there was working in the design and drawing offices for the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Chartered engineers need on-site experience, which wasn’t that easy for a woman to come by in the early part of the 20th century. Buchanan got a job at the Silent Valley Reservoir project in Northern Ireland and this meant she could become a chartered engineer.

Buchanan went on to work for landmark projects. She was part of the design team for the George IV Bridge in Newcastle, Lambeth Bridge in London and the Dessou and Khartoum bridges in Sudan.

All this from a childhood spent admiring the bridges and local works around Langholm.

Anne Gillespie Shaw

Does improving the rate at which planes could be produced during the Second World War sound important? That’s what Anne Gillespie Shaw did through her pioneering work in motion study.

Anne was born in Uddingston and went to Edinburgh university before studying in America. Once back from the states she quickly worked her way through the ranks of Metropolitan-Vickers Electrical Company in Manchester and by 1933 was chief supervisor of women workers for the company.  

She was an exceptional engineer and a pioneer in the industry, recognised (quite rightly) with countless awards before and after her death.

Victoria Drummond

Victoria Drummond had a good start in life: she was born in a castle and Queen Victoria was her godmother.

Victoria didn’t rest on her aristocratic laurels, she went onto become the first female British marine engineer. During the First World War, Victoria started an apprenticeship in Northern Garage and in 1916 she moved to Caledon Shipworks in Dundee. She was the only woman in a company of 3000 men.

Once qualified Victoria set sail on a merchant ship as tenth engineer. Sexism meant she found it difficult to get work, which may be why she failed the chief engineers exam 37 times. Undeterred, she achieved the titles and served on the SS Bonita. In 1940 the ship was attacked by a bomber. Victoria sent all the other engineers away and stayed below deck to keep the engines running during the attack. She arrived in the USA a hero.

She was the first female chief engineer in the Merchant Navy, received the Lloyd’s Medal for Bravery at Sea and was the first female member of the Institute of Marine Engineers. She retired aged 68 and has a plaque outside Abertay University in Dundee.

Margaret, Lady Moir OBE  

Born in Edinburgh in 1864, Margaret became involved in the engineering world through her husband Ernest’s work on the Forth Road Bridge – she was fascinated by the structure, which was being built near where she lived. She went on to make her own distinct mark on the profession. 

As well as training and working as a lathe operator, she organised the Women Relief Munition Workers, who were educated women providing weekend relief for weekday staff aiding the munitions effort of the First World War.  

Frustrated by the return of women to their domestic lives when the war had ended, Margaret and her peers created the Women’s Engineering Society in 1919. By 1930 an engineering course specifically for women was in operation across several polytechnics, thanks to the society. 

She recognised that beginning a career in engineering alongside the demands of running a household was challenging, leading to her presidency of the Electrical Association for Women, which promoted the potential of electric appliances in easing the labour required for chores. 

The Women’s Engineering Society still operates today, acting as a networking space for female scientists and engineers.