Engineer of the Week No. 116: Maria de Lourdes Ruivo da Silva de Matos Pintasilgo, GCC GCIH GCL (18 January 1930 – Lisbon, 10 July 2004)
Pintasilgo was a chemical engineer and Portuguese politician. She was the first and to date only woman to serve as Prime Minister of Portugal, albeit for only 100 days, in 1979.
Educated at a Lisbon secondary school, she was an enthusiastic member of the compulsory youth organisation, Mocidade Portuguesa Feminina, and also joined Acção Católica (Catholic Action). She then went to the Instituto Superior Técnico graduating in industrial chemical engineering in 1953. Whilst there she became active the Catholic's women's student movement, which was the start of her political interests. Her first job after university was as a graduate trainee with the national Nuclear Energy Board. She then moved to one of Portugal’s oldest and largest engineering conglomerate with interests in cement plants, Companhia União Fabril. By 1954, she held the position of chief engineer of the research and projects division, from which she became responsible for the company's technical journals, until she left in 1960, thus ending her period as an engineer. Her political career developed with various organisations in the Roman Catholic laywomen's movement whilst working for the government's program for development and social change. In 1974 she was appointed secretary of state for social welfare in the first provisional government following the revolution, rising to become Minister of Social Affairs by early 1975. In 1975, Pintasilgo became Portugal's first Ambassador to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO. In 1979 the Portugese president asked her to become Prime Minister of the Portuguese caretaker government, for a period of 3 months, making her the 2nd woman prime minister in Europe (after Thatcher). Although her term of office very brief she was able to use it to introduce some social welfare reforms and later was elected to the European Parliament. She died in 2004 but since 2016, the Instituto Superior Técnico awards the Maria de Lourdes Pintasilgo Award to 2 female engineering graduates.