Archive: Pioneering female automotive engineer

Sarah Broadhurst

Dorothée Pullinger managed the building of a car made by women, for women, and then won a race in it.

Automobile engineer and entrepreneur Dorothée Pullinger gave distinguished service on the home front in both world wars.

Born in St Aubin-sur-Scie, France in 1894, Pullinger moved to Scotland at the age of eight. At 16, she started work as a junior in the drawing office of automotive firm Arrol-Johnston, in Paisley, where her father also worked as an engineer. 

By the time the First World War broke out, Pullinger was 20 years old, and she was selected to be Lady Superintendent of the female war works at the Vickers factory in Barrow. She was in charge of 7,000 female workers making high-explosive shells. For her efforts here during the war, Pullinger was awarded an MBE.

She first attempted to gain membership of the Institution of Automobile Engineers (which merged with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1947) in 1914, but was refused on the grounds that she was a woman. However, she was successful upon applying again in 1920, and was the first female member. 

Pullinger was also a founding member of the Women’s Engineering Society, which was set up by members of the National Council of Women in 1919 to help bring women into the profession. A lot of women had been working in engineering during the war while the men were away at the front. The society campaigned that women who wanted to go into engineering should be considered on the same terms as men. 

Many important female engineers were a part of this group – including the inventor Verena Holmes, who was the first female member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. 

After the war, Pullinger went on to manage production at the Galloway Motor Car Company, a subsidiary of Arrol-Johnston. The staff at the plant were mostly women, and Pullinger helped to set up a successful apprenticeship scheme for women there – something which was very unusual at the time. 

She worked on the production of the Galloway, a lightweight car specifically marketed at women. This was a car made by women, for women. There had been an increase in the number of women who had learnt to drive, and the Galloway was designed – unlike most cars at the time – in a size and with a driving position that was of the proportion for a woman.

Pullinger also drove cars competitively, and won the Scottish Six Day Trial in 1924 with the Galloway car. She remained at the company until the mid-1920s, working not only as an engineer but also as a sales representative for southern England. 

In the late 1920s, she moved to Croydon and with her husband set up a steam laundry, using state-of-the-art technology from America. The White Service Steam Laundry opened just at the right time for the boom in commercial laundry services in England, and Pullinger’s business proved to be very successful indeed, with 17 branches. It even had its own power station and arterial well. 

During the Second World War, she was the only woman on the industrial panel at the Ministry of Production, and she advised the Nuffield group on women’s employment during wartime – helping to set up and run 13 factories. 

In later life, she moved to Guernsey and set up another steam laundry service – Normandy Laundries. She continued to be an active member of the council of the Women’s Engineering Society. She died in 1986. 

To celebrate her achievements, Pullinger’s name was included in the Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame in 2012.

Did you know? Dorothée Pullinger

The Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame sums up Dorothée Pullinger’s achievements: “A woman of remarkable resilience and talent, a leader in recruiting women into engineering during wartime, an MBE at the age of 26, a founder of the Women’s Engineering Society in 1919, an accomplished engineer in her own right, and a pioneer and inspiration for women in engineering.”


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