Scottish Women Who Have Shaped Engineering

Read time 8 minutes
Posted on June 22nd 2020
23 June marks International Women in Engineering Day. To celebrate, the team at Glasgow Science Centre have rounded up some inspirational women who've made their mark on the engineering industry throughout the years - and they're all from Scotland!


Dorothy Donaldson Buchanan

Portrait of Dorothy Donaldson Buchanan hanging in the Institution of Civil Engineer's headquarters
Portrait of Dorothy Donaldson Buchanan which hangs in the Institution of Civil Engineer (ICE)'s headquarters - image courtesy of ICE 


Dorothy Donaldson Buchanan was born in  Langholm, Dumfriesshire  in 1899  and was awarded a degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Edinburgh in 1923.  She later went on to become the first female chartered engineer after qualifying for membership to  the Institution of Civil Engineers  in 1927.  

Buchanan  began this journey following graduation  when she  travelled to  London to work with Sir Ralph Freeman. She worked in the design and drawing offices  for  the  Sydney Harbour Bridge  project.   

Buchanan went on to work  for contractors  S. Pearson & Sons  at the Belfast Waterworks Scheme on the  Silent Valley Reservoir  project in  Northern Ireland. This provided her with the necessary  on-site  experience  needed to  satisfy  the  qualification requirements  to become a chartered engineer.  Buchanan  then  returned to London where she worked  for  Dorman Long in, the design office  on  the  George V Bridge  project  in Newcastle,  Lambeth Bridge  project  in London, and  the  Dessouk  and Khartoum bridges  in Sudan.  It was during this time that she  successfully  sat her exams  and  became the first women in Britain to become a qualified  civil  engineer. 


Anne Gillespie Shaw 

Picture of Anne Gillespie Shaw
Anne Gillespie Shaw


Anne Gillespie Shaw was not only an exceptional engineer who played an important part during the second world war, she was also a pioneer of motion study. She was a graduate of the University of Edinburgh before studying in the USA.

 When she returned from  America  she quickly worked her way up the Metropolitan-Vickers Electrical Company in Manchester, and by 1933 she was chief supervisor of company's female workers.

 During the second world war, Anne organised motion training to improve the rate at which aeroplanes could be produced. She was a pioneer in the industry and was recognised with countless awards before and after her death.


Victoria Drummond

Portrait of Victoria Drummond
Portrait of Victoria Drummond - photo courtesy of


Victoria Drummond was the first British woman Marine Engineer in the UK. Victoria was born in Megginch Castle, Perthshire in 1894, and was goddaughter to Queen Victoria. However, this didn't stop Victoria Drummond achieving her dream - much to the surprise of her aristocratic family.

During World War 1, Victoria had the opportunity to begin an apprenticeship in Northern Garage, aged 21.  She then moved on to Caledon Shipworks in Dundee - where she was the only woman in a company of 3000 men.

Victoria studied at Dundee Institute of Technology as an apprentice. Once qualified, Victoria set sail on a merchant ship for the Blue Funnel Line Vessel, the SS Anchises as tenth engineer. Victoria met much prejudice and found it hard to find work during the depression, which may be the reason why she failed the chief engineers exam 37 times.

Undeterred, Victoria achieved her chief engineer's certificate from Panama. Victoria served on board ship, on the SS Bonita in 1940 and was attacked by a German bomber. Victoria sent all other engineers away and stayed below deck keeping the engines running during the attack, arriving in the USA a heroine.

She was awarded an MBE and the Lloyd's Medal for Bravery at Sea. Victoria continued her career in Dundee and Burntisland as a superintendent of shipbuilding and became a chief engineer. She returned to sea before retiring in 1962, aged 68.

Victoria Drummond was not only the first woman to to serve as a chief engineer in the Merchant Navy, but the first woman to become a member of the Institute of Marine Engineers. She was a courageous and determined woman who was a trailblazer for women in Marine Engineering - and if you're in the area, there's a plaque in her memory outside Abertay University in Dundee. 


Margaret, Lady Moir OBE   

Portrait of Margaret, Lady Moir
Portrait of Margaret, Lady Moir


Born in Edinburgh in 1864,  Margaret  became heavily involved in the engineering world initially through her husband Ernest's work,  but  made 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 munition s 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.   

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