Mary Fergusson

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Molly Fergusson OBE
Mary Fergusson

28 April 1914
Died30 November 1997(1997-11-30) (aged 83)
Other namesMolly
OccupationCivil engineer
Known forCivil Engineering

Mary (Molly) Isolen Fergusson OBE (28 April 1914, in Stoke – 30 November 1997, in London) was a British civil engineer, the first female fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers, elected in 1957.[1][2]

Early life and education[edit]

Molly Fergusson was born at Stoke, Devonport, the daughter of Mildred Gladys Mercer and John N. Fraser Fergusson and was brought up in York, where her father made radiography equipment.[3] She was head girl at York College, graduated in civil engineering from the University of Edinburgh in 1936, and to complete her training was indentured for two years at Blyth and Blyth of Edinburgh, unpaid for the first year.[2]

Civil engineering work[edit]

She remained with the firm and worked on bridges and other infrastructure projects in Scotland,[4] becoming a corporate member of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1939.[citation needed] Eventually Fergusson became a senior partner with Blyth and Blyth in 1948, making her the first female senior partner in a UK civil engineering firm.[5] She was personally responsible for a number of engineering works, including the well-known River Leven Purification Scheme in 1952.[6] On 15 January 1957 she was the first woman to be elected as full member of Britain's senior engineering society, the Institution of Civil Engineers.[7][8] In 1967 Fergusson was part of the organisational committee for the Second International Conference of Women Engineers and Scientists.[9] In 1971 she chaired the Verena Holmes Lecture, "Engineering the Environment" at the Napier College of Science and Technology, Edinburgh.

Later life[edit]

She retired from full-time work in 1978 and was appointed OBE in the 1979 Birthday Honours.[10]

Fergusson continued her engineering work as a consultant, using her fees to create and support a fund to help engineering students. She was active as a member of the Women's Engineering Society and other community organisations.[11] She was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree at Heriot-Watt University in 1985,[12] for her work in encouraging women to take up engineering careers.[1] At a celebration of Fergusson's life, the Dean of the Faculty of Engineering at Heriot-Watt University, Clephane Hume remarked she was "A memorable lady, with a terrific sense of humour".


A portrait of Fergusson was unveiled in June 2015 in the William Arrol building at Heriot-Watt University, where a Hall of residence is named after her.[13]

National Grid named a 510 tonne, 160-metre-long tunnel boring machine "Mary" after Fergusson, in honour of her status as the first female fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers. It was used between 2018 and 2019 to bore a tunnel under the River Humber as part of a project to secure 20% of Britain's gas supplies[14]


  1. ^ a b "Mary Fergusson". ICE. Retrieved 26 June 2015.
  2. ^ a b Haines, Catharine M. C., International women in science: a biographical dictionary to 1950, p. 98
  3. ^ Nina Baker, "Fergusson, Mary Isolen (Molly), in Elizabeth Ewan, Sue Innes, and Sian Reynolds, eds., The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women (University of Edinburgh Press 2007): 117.
  4. ^ "First woman civil engineer remembered". NCE 22 June 2015. Retrieved 26 June 2015.
  5. ^ Nina Baker, "Two Hundred Years of Women Bridge Builders," presentation at the University of Strathclyde (2006)
  6. ^ Baker, Nina. "Early Women Engineering Graduates from Scottish Universities". Early Women Engineering Graduates from Scottish Universities. Retrieved 11 October 2016.
  7. ^ "Woman Engineer's Achievement". The Woman Engineer. 8 (4): 21. Spring 1957. Retrieved 11 October 2016.
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Second International Conference of Women Engineers Conference Committees". The Woman Engineer. 10 (6): 3. Retrieved 11 October 2016.
  10. ^ "No. 47888". The London Gazette (Supplement). 26 June 1979. p. 5.
  11. ^ "Mary Isolen Fergusson OBE 1914–1997 Pioneering Civil Engineer". Retrieved 11 October 2016.
  12. ^ "Heriot-Watt University Honorary Graduates" (PDF). Retrieved 11 October 2016.
  13. ^ "Heriot Watt University: Edinburgh campus map" (PDF). Retrieved 11 October 2016.
  14. ^ "National Grid's Humber tunnel reaches halfway point". Retrieved 2019-01-18.