Dorothy Donaldson Buchanan
Who am I?
Dorothy Donaldson Buchanan was the Institution of Civil Engineers’ first female chartered engineer. Born and raised in Dumfriesshire, surrounded by the bridges and other local works of the great engineer Thomas Telford, Dorothy’s earliest ambitions were to become a civil engineer, and she gained a BSc in Engineering from the University of Edinburgh in 1923. In 1930 she stopped working as an engineer to get married, feeling that to do both family and professional roles well would not be possible at the same time. In later years she took up rock climbing and painting. She died in 1985. © Nina Baker
I am monumental because...
One of her university professors recommended her to S. Pearson & Sons, but they would not take her until she had some experience. Fortunately, Ralph Freeman was recruiting staff for his work as consultant to Dorman Long’s on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. She worked in the design office and then sought work on the drawing office, to work on the southern approach spans to the bridge.
Having gained the necessary experience, she was taken on by Pearsons in 1926 and worked on site at the Belfast Waterworks scheme in the Mourne Valley. This scheme ran into geological problems and the novel technique of using compressed air to dewater silty strata was used, giving Buchanan very interesting experience. Site work was apparently not a problem, with workers being content to see her as an engineer. She returned to Dorman Long’s drawing office to work on the George V bridge in Newcastle and the Lambeth Bridge in London. She successfully sat the exams to become the Institution of Civil Engineers’ first female chartered engineer in 1927, which she regarded as a highlight of her life. © Nina Baker
The Sydney Harbour Bridge, on which Buchanan worked, under construction in 1930. Image courtesy of the State Archives and Records of New South Wales