Marie Lindley: a pioneering engineer in Kenya

“I think the Africans thought that all Europeans were mad anyway”

Marie Lindley (1926-2013) was the second woman to become a Fellow of the Institute of Civil Engineers. She began her career with the colonial service in Uganda, later transferring to Kenya where she stayed until independence. Her story gives an interesting insight into a young woman’s experience of working in a male-dominated environment far from home.

Photo: Camera on tripod mounted in front of Fourteen Falls, near Thika, Kenya.  Photo by Charles Trotter

BECC 2001/090/1/1/5180

Black and white photo of camera on tripod mounted in front of Fourteen Falls, near Thika, Kenya.

Teckla Muhoro writes:

Colour photograph of Dr Teckla Muhoro's faceThe 1954 East African Standard newspaper article “Women at Work – A Girl who is laying a Pipeline” communicates perception regarding women in traditionally male-dominated industry.

A qualified professional in her mid-twenties and a resident engineer on the Mombasa Major Project Pipeline, Eng. Lindley could hardly be referred to as a girl. Indeed, had it been a man, the term ‘boy’ would unlikely have been used in a similarly titled article. This word-choice reflects a societal mindset and journalistic bias towards a woman in the engineering profession.

In the 1950s, such reference was more amplified and more acceptable, but even in the 21st Century these perspectives towards women in such workplaces prevail. The confession by Eng. Lindley that “equal pay for equal work doesn’t apply” further captures the gender-based disparity in terms of salaries and professional recognition in her time.

This disparity in many instances endures to the present day. Eng. Lindley’s work involved heading male-dominated teams in technical and demanding assignments and environments; organizing and coordinating such teams to achieve expected results requires capacity to demonstrate collegiality and leadership, both of which can be learned and matured over time.

Presence of pioneering role models can influence interest and confidence of young girls and women to pursue professions in male-dominated disciplines. In Eng. Lindley’s case, her mother was a doctor, her father an engineer. Education and enabling institutional environments can also encourage pursuit and success in professions where women have been traditionally marginalized, unexpected, and unconsidered.

Dr Muhoro’s photo courtesy Dr Muhoro

Audio

Marie Lindley on being a woman in charge

Excerpt from interview with Marie Lindley BECC OH 0434
View transcript on soundcloud

Marie Lindley on education and Independence

Excerpt from interview with Marie Lindley BECC OH 0434
View transcript on soundcloud

About Teckla Muhoro

Teckla Muhoro (PhD) is a lecturer in the School of Architecture and Building Sciences at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Kenya. She holds a Bachelor of Architecture (USA), a Master of Architecture (Belgium) and PhD in Urban Design (Kenya). Areas of academic interest and research are urban morphology, architectural heritage, socio-spatial development, and governance, especially in African cities. Related co-authored publications include: Reflections on Architectural Morphology in Nairobi, Kenya: Implications for Conservation of the Built Heritage in Conservation of Cultural and Natural Heritage in Kenya (2016) and Nairobi: An Architectural Jubilee 1963 – 2013; Vol. 1 (2013).