A Car for Ladies – Dorothée Pullinger, Pioneering Engineers and the Scottish Connection and beyond
The story of Dorothée Pullinger has recently started to gain attention mainly for her pioneering work as a woman in engineering before the First World War and for designing the Galloway car in the 1920s, as a “Car for women built by others of their sex”. She was the first woman to be inducted into the Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame, in 2012. Yet, her Scottish connection is still very much unexplored.
Born in France to a French mother and an English father, Thomas, she first came to England at the age of 8 when her father’s work as one of the early car designers brought the family to the Midlands. By the time she finished her schooling in Loughborough she knew she wanted to become an engineer like her father. Thomas Pullinger was by then the manager of the new Arrol Johnston car works in Underwood Road in Paisley. Dorothée persuaded her father to let her train as an engineer at the Arrol Johnston factory, which she did until 1916 when she was recruited to be the Superintendent in charge of thousands of women munitions workers at Vickers in Barrow-in-Furness, at the age of 22. She was awarded the MBE for her war service.
Arrol Johnston’s new factories at Heathhall (Dumfries) and Tongland (near Kirkcudbright in Galloway) built aircraft in the war. The Galloway Engineering Company in Tongland in particular carried out advanced work on aeroengines using new designs and materials. This factory was conceived as a training establishment for “girl engineers” and after the war was converted to general engineering and subsequently production of the Galloway car. Sadly, the Galloway Motor Company and its parent Arrol Johnston folded by the late 1920s. By then Dorothee had married and left Scotland to build an industrial steam laundry in London, using her engineering and managerial skills to set up a very successful business, whilst also having two children.
During the Second World War Dorothée’s industrial skills were again called upon by the Nuffield company and by the government as they again struggled with managing the training and productivity of thousands of women working in factories to build planes and tanks and manufacture ammunition.
After the war, she and her husband sold their London laundry business and moved their family to Guernsey where they built a new laundry to service the emerging tourism industry. Dorothée lived out the rest of her life in Guernsey, later retiring to her daughter’s farm and ultimately moving to the Old Government House hotel in St Peter Port where she could still keep an eye on the laundries. She was well-known driving her own Galloway car, and its successors, around Guernsey’s narrow rural roads.