ICE's first female member
Helped design Newcastle’s Tyne Bridge
On design team of Sydney Harbour Bridge
Why you might have heard of Dorothy Buchanan
Dorothy Buchanan was the first female member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.
She helped design the Tyne Bridge in Newcastle, UK, which was known as the George V Bridge when it opened in 1928.
I felt that I represented all the women in the world. It was my hope that I would be followed by many others.
After graduating from Edinburgh University, Dorothy caught pneumonia, and was recommended a change of air to help her recovery. She decided to go to London.
In London, she learned that Sir Ralph Freeman, senior partner in Douglas Fox & Partners and consultant to steelwork contractors Dorman Long & Co, was recruiting a team working on the design of Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Dorothy was able to impress Sir Ralph, which led to her joining the bridge design staff at Dorman Long’s London office for £4 a week plus overtime. She was his pupil from April 1924.
Other overseas bridges Dorothy helped design included one in Dessouk, over the River Nile, and in Khartoum, Sudan.
In May 1926, Dorothy went to Northern Ireland to work on the Silent Valley Reservoir, to gain the necessary site experience to qualify for ICE membership.
While there, she was mentored by Sir Ernest Moir, a British civil engineer who’s believed to have invented the first medical airlock while working on the Hudson River Tunnel in New York.
After six months in Northern Ireland, she returned to Dorman Long’s bridge design team.
She then worked on the design of the steelwork for the Tyne Bridge in Newcastle-upon-Tyne (built 1925-1928) and Lambeth Bridge (built around 1928-1932).
In May 1927, finding that many of her colleagues were becoming ICE members, Dorothy applied to the Institution for admission as an Associate Member (AMInstCE), the equivalent of CEng MICE in 2017.
To qualify for this, applicants had to have passed degree-level exams and had practical experience.
She passed an interview discussing her experience and was elected an ICE member on 13 December 1927. She became the first woman in Britain to become a qualified civil engineer.