Engineer of the Week No36: Mary (Molly) Isolen Fergusson OBE, BSc, DSc, MICE, MConsE.(28th April 1914 - 30th November 1997)
Today we remember Scotland’s first woman to become a career civil engineer, Molly Fergusson, on her 105th birthday.
Molly Fergusson was the eldest daughter of a Scottish medical father whose own fascination with invention surrounded her childhood, as he made a lot of his own equipment for his research in the early days of radiography. She attended York College for Girls, a small independent church school where she became head girl and was encouraged in her interest in engineering. She graduated with a BSc Hons in Civil Engineering from the University of Edinburgh in 1936, and remained living in Edinburgh for the rest of her working life.
In 1936 she started an unpaid pupillage with the Scottish firm of civil engineers, Blyth and Blyth. She showed exceptional promise and after her first year she was paid thirty shillings a week (£1.50). She assisted the senior partner designing a range of civil engineering projects, inlcuding bridges,drainage and sewerage schemes (e.g. the River Leven water purification works), and industrial projects (e.g. Markinch paper mills for Tullis Russell). The two-level pre-stressed concrete footbridge over the Gala Water at Galashiels included a spiral staircase and a sewer, and the concrete Devonside Bridge curved across the river to Tillicoultry. From the 1960s, the firm workedon examples of Scottish modernist architecture, working with architects from local authorities, and private practices, including some buildings for the University of Edinburgh.
She made history by becoming the first female senior partner in a UK civil engineering firm, on 1st January 1948. She worked with relentless energy, and expected the same dedication from her juniors. She became the first woman to be awarded (1957) the Institution of Civil Engineering’s senior professional grade MICE, the equivalent of a fellowship today. On retiring in 1978, she continued with some consultancy work, using the resulting fees to endow a university bursary fund for young engineers. She was active in the Women’s Engineering Society and the Edinburgh Soroptimists, was given an OBE in 1979 and was awarded an honorary doctorate of science at Heriot-Watt University (5th July 1985), for her work in encouraging women to take up engineering careers. She retained an interest in her old school and was a benefactor and governor in later life. In her retirement she continued with her charity work and travelled extensively.