Molly Fergusson (1914-1997)
Prolific civil engineer and the first female fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers, who has inspired a new initiative for women in engineering at the University.
Molly Fergusson was born in 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. She graduated in civil engineering from the University of Edinburgh in 1936 - the first women to graduate with honours from the engineering department.
She completed her training with a two-year apprenticeship at the prestigious Blyth and Blyth firm in Edinburgh, unpaid for the first year.
Edinburgh then became Molly’s home for the next 60 years.
At Blyth and Blyth
Staying with Blyth and Blyth after her apprenticeship, Molly worked with the senior partner, Benjamin Hall Blyth III, on the design of bridges across the Highlands and Hebrides.
She progressed rapidly in her career, and in 1939 she was elected AMInstCE, the professional grade of the Institution of Civil Engineers. In 1948 she became a partner in Blyth and Blyth – the first woman to be made a partner in a civil engineering consultancy - and was in charge of various civil engineering projects including bridge design, the River Leven water purification works, sewerage schemes, and industrial projects such as the Markinch paper mills of Tullis Russell.
From the 1960s Molly’s work with her partners saw Blyth and Blyth being associated with a succession of outstanding examples of Scottish modernist architecture. Many were buildings for her alma mater, the University of Edinburgh.
She resigned as a partner in 1978, but continued to act as a consultant, using her fee income to establish a bursary for helping aspiring engineering students. She also encouraged young women into the profession through her work with the Women’s Engineering Society and elsewhere.
She was also chair of the Edinburgh Soroptimists Group – an international women’s service organisation with consultative status at the United Nations - and a member of the General Council Business Committee of the University of Edinburgh.
In 2019 Molly was posthumously inducted into the Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame.
The Molly Fergusson Initiative
The Molly Fergusson Initiative is a recently founded initiative to promote the visibility and community of women in the School of Engineering. We asked some of those involved: ‘How are you shaping the world as a woman in engineering?’. You can read their responses here: