Beyond the Barrier 2019

Page 36

Dorothée Pullinger and

“A Car for Women”


t the age of eight, Dorothée Pullinger arrived in England from France for the first time. Her father Thomas Charles Pullinger, from London, became famous in France as a designer of bicycles, early motor cars, and “cycle cars”. He married a French woman, Aurélie Sitwell, and started his large family. Whilst Thomas Pullinger was moving between jobs in car manufactures in the Midlands (Sunbeam, then Humber), the family sent their two eldest daughters to school at Loughborough High School. When she left Loughborough High School in 1910, Dorothée persuaded her father to let her join as an apprentice engineer at the Arrol-Johnston car factory in Paisley, Scotland. This was a very unusual career choice at the time, and initially resisted by the family, but Dorothée was determined to follow her interests and go directly into what she must have felt could provide an exciting and rewarding career. Dorothée had been to school in France, and French was her first language. At LHS she boarded with one of the teachers, Miss Grimley. She also had some French manners which got her into trouble, as she used to tell her family (as recalled by her daughter Yvette Le Couvey): “She couldn’t speak a word of English when she came to England and she was sent to Loughborough High School. She was told to be on her best behaviour and in France you put your hands on the table [Yvette put her elbows on the table hands in the air as if holding cutlery] and she got slapped, because in England you put your hands in your lap but in France you put

Kindly provided by Prof. Katherine Kirk, Dr Nina Baker and Prof. Katarzyna Kosmal


your hands on the table so that people can see you don’t have a dagger, but in England you don’t do that.” As the First World War approached, the Arrol-Johnston company moved to a new factory in Heathhall near Dumfries. They saw an opportunity to branch out into aero engines, in particular designs based on the Austro-Daimler aero engine, which was a very well established and popular 6-cylinder in-line piston aero engine in Europe at the time. In some written reminiscences, Dorothée recalled that one of her jobs was to convert the plans from Metric to Imperial measurements. Women initially were not employed in armaments factories at the start of WW1, however by 1915, following the Right to Serve march in London, employers and engineering unions came to an agreement that women could take on some of these traditional men’s roles. With her engineering knowledge, and family background in engineering management, Dorothée was headhunted to manage eventually 7000 women munition workers at Vickers’ in Barrow-in-Furness, with her own office and staff, including one of her cousins, 16-year-old Madeline Pullinger. On her return to Scotland after the war, Dorothée moved into a sales role with Arrol-Johnston, now reverted to car manufacturing. To promote the cars, Dorothée drove a Galloway car in the Scottish 6-Days light car trials around Scotland, in 1924 and 1926, including stages on some rather remote and scary looking Highlands roads.

Dorothée 1907, 13 years old.

Although women were in theory allowed to practice in the engineering profession after WW1, they found an inclement climate. The Restoration of Pre-War Practices act meant that employers who had brought in women to replace men in engineering were bound to lay them off when the men returned. This contributed to a climate where, even in entirely new jobs and enterprises which did not exist before the war, women’s positions in engineering were precarious. They also met resistance from the professional engineering institutes, who in a remark which still resonates today, said that “a person means a man”. The Women’s Engineering Society was set up in 1919 to support women in their chosen engineering careers. Dorothée also eventually became a member of the Association of Automobile Engineers in 1920 – and had to correct in fountain pen the male pronouns in the printed application form. Dorothée left Arrol-Johnston around 1927 after her marriage to Edward Marshall Martin, a ship’s purser who she met when she joined her parents for the last leg of a world cruise/ marketing trip. The Martins moved to London and set up the White Service Laundries. Steam laundry was a highly mechanised process, using what was basically a factory full of machines working in severe conditions of heat and humidity. Dorothée’s engineering and personnel management experience was vital in launching and maintaining this business all through the 1930s and Second World War. War time brought another demand for Dorothée’s expertise in engineering and people management, when she was “called up” to work with Lord Nuffield to resolve problems with his company’s munitions factories. The Government also asked her to serve on committees trying to manage the “women power problem” in the factories. In a newspaper report of 1942 Dorothée remarks “We didn’t profit much from the lessons we learned on this subject last time”. Dorothée’s daughter Yvette recalled: