The story of Dorothée Pullinger

Dorothée Pullinger's extraordinary life and work continues to fascinate cultural researchers and engineering historians, now UWS academics are searching for her Paisley connection.

Dorothée Pullinger's extraordinary life and work continues to fascinate cultural researchers and engineering historians, now UWS academics are searching for her Paisley connection. The research was enabled by a Royal Academy of Engineering Ingenious award in 2017 for "A Car for Women, and other stories" project, and the University of the West of Scotland’s Vice Principal’s Research Fund, under the multidisciplinary joint venture between the teams of the School of Engineering and Computing led by Prof Katherine Kirk and the School of Media, Culture and Society led by Prof Katarzyna Kosmala of University of the West of Scotland in collaboration with Scottish cultural organizations and independent historians.

Dorothée Pullinger MBE (1894–1986) is celebrated for her trailblazing work as a woman and leader in engineering in the early 20th century when such careers were not open to most women. Before she was 22, she had managed 7,000 women munitions workers during WW1 at Vickers in Barrow in Furness. She returned to Scotland from this war work to persuade Arrol-Johnstons car makers that a car for women would be a great new post-war product. Her ideas for the changes needed to the typical car of that period resulted in the Galloway cars which sold many thousands before the Depression killed off the smaller car companies. Subsequently, she established two very successful large industrial steam laundries, first in London and later in Guernsey. In WW2 she used her WW1 experience to advise the government and industry on how to recruit and manage female war workers.

None of this would have come about if she hadn't had her initial professional training, which took place in Paisley. Although a few women were taking science degrees - and she would have been bright enough to do that - Dorothée's route into engineering was more hands-on and traditional.

Her father, Thomas Pullinger, had become managing director of the Arrol-Johnston factory in 1907, then situated in an industrial area off Underwood Road, directly below the Coats Observatory.

There is nothing left of it now - and a modern housing estate occupies the exact site - but then there was a former Coats thread spinning works that was turned over to Arrol-Johnston when their first workshops burned down.

 

Having been immersed in her father's work as a car designer, Dorothée knew she wanted to be an engineer, but had to fight her father's conservative views of what a young lady should do. However, in 1909 she started her training in the drawing offices at Arrol-Johnston's Underwood works, in the very heart of industrial Paisley. Later she would also train in the different sections of the factory learning such skills as metal casting.

The family (she had 11 younger siblings) lived in the Ayrshire countryside, near Dalry.  Sadly in 1912 her grandmother, Marianne Pullinger, died whilst living at No. 54 High Street Paisley, and was buried in nearby Woodside Cemetery.  It seems at least probable that Dorothée may have lodged there too, keeping an eye on her frail granny whilst working only a short walk away in Underwood Road. The numbering of the High Street is different now but we know that No. 54 was on the site where the University of the West of Scotland now sits and where the project’s team would like to see a memorial plaque!

Arroll-Johnston and the Pullingers moved to Dumfries during WW1, but the connection with this amazing woman and Paisley was crucial to her later successes and the Wee Toon should be proud to have had a part in her story.

Find out more information about Dorothée Pullinger’s Paisley connection at https://womenengineerssite.wordpress.com/2017/08/09/dorothee-pullinger-and-the-paisley-connection/