Storytelling, film, and engineering come together in a new Ingenious project at University of the West of Scotland.

‘A Car for Women and Other Stories’ takes up the story of Dorothée Pullinger, a pioneering motor engineer in the 1920s. Dorothée is most famous for designing and building a “Car for Women” at her factory in Galloway, Scotland.  As the director and manager of Galloway Motors, Dorothée recruited a large female workforce to train as engineers and build the cars at the end of World War I.

The University of the West of Scotland team, made up of myself (Professor Katherine Kirk) and Dr Evi Viza of the School of Engineering and Computing, along with Professor Katarzyna Kosmala and Tony Grace of the School of Media Culture and Society, are joining forces with Pullinger expert and independent researcher, Dr Nina Baker, to explore the story of Dorothée’s life and achievements.

Funded by the Ingenious award, we are making an educational film of Dorothée’s engineering career, with contributions from engineers of the present day. This project will promote a better understanding of engineering careers, and we will look at both the public’s perceptions of engineering and at engineers’ attitudes, occupational culture and identity. In doing this, we will reach engineers and non-engineers alike. The project will also be a two-way process, as there are important messages that need to travel in both directions.

Additionally, training sessions in storytelling skills will prepare our participating engineers, and build confidence for the workplace and future public engagement activities. Storytelling skills can be vital in creating space to deliver important messages, something that in the case of this project can prove particularly valuable for female engineers working in a male dominated environment.

Statistics show that women in engineering careers are still rather rare and many of the reasons why go back a long way. Women have frequently been discouraged or even banned from the engineering profession throughout history. In 1914, despite her obvious talents as an engineer, the Institution of Automobile Engineers refused to admit Dorothée, stating “the word ‘person’ means a man” in their articles. In response, Dorothée and her fellow female engineers founded the Women’s Engineering Society on 23 June 1919.

So, how much have things changed? If you were a woman beginning your engineering career in the late 20th and early 21st century, you might expect a greater than 1-in-10 presence at work by now. Like me, I imagine you thought numbers were beginning to take off. In fact, they didn’t, and as in 1914, this does not reflect women’s lack of enthusiasm.

Our project starts with researching Dorothée Pullinger’s life. The first filming assignment in June is a trip to Guernsey, to meet Dorothée’s two children who still live there. We will then arrange for engineers to visit the Galloway Motor Company factories in Galloway and Dumfries, to see where Dorothée started out on her career.

Dorothée’s father, Thomas Pullinger, built the Galloway factory as a “Women’s Engineering Works” in 1916, building aircraft for the First World War. Post-war, it became the Galloway car factory, Galloway Motors, which built Dorothée’s ‘Car for Women’. In a modern, environmentally-friendly twist, a sales brochure promoted the factory as “powered by a mountain stream”, using its own hydropower system to generate electricity. This resulted in lower energy costs and cheaper cars.

The University of the West of Scotland, where our project is based, has its main campus in Paisley, near Glasgow. The team were very excited to find that Dorothée’s training as an engineer began right here in Paisley, in the drawing office of the Arrol-Johnson car factory where her father worked.

Once completed, we will show the film at public events across the UK, as well as making it available to stream on the internet, engaging people with engineering via storytelling. Accompanying the film will be inspirational engineering stories of today.

The Riverside Museum in Glasgow has the only Galloway car currently on display in the UK. In 2019, they are planning a special display for the Women’s Engineering Society centenary year.

A note about the project…

The Social Fabric – Engagement with the Materials of Art, Craft and Industry, is a novel research initiative that was awarded funding by the University of the West of Scotland’s Vice Principal’s scheme in January 2017. The scheme launched a new multidisciplinary collaboration between the School of Media, Culture and Society, led by Professor Katarzyna Kosmala, and the School of Engineering and Computing, led by Professor Katherine Kirk, on the interaction of people and materials in research, industry, art, heritage, education and leisure.

From this starting point, the project team obtained a Royal Academy of Engineering Ingenious award in May 2017 for “A Car for Women, and other stories” led by Professor Katherine Kirk in collaboration with Professor Katarzyna Kosmala, Tony Grace, and Dr Evi Viza of the University of the West of Scotland and independent engineering historian Dr Nina Baker. 

Katherine Kirk

Katherine Kirk

Professor Katherine Kirk is a lecturer at the University of the West of Scotland and director of the Microscale Sensors Research Group. Her research experience is in materials, device design and applications, and is currently working on ultrasonic transducers for biomedical imaging and non-destructive testing. Katherine was awarded a PhD from the University of Strathclyde for her work in high-temperature superconductors and went on to study with the University’s Ultrasonics Research Group in the department of electronic and electrical engineering.
Katherine Kirk

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