12 spectacular British women’s firsts

3. First female train driver

Karen Harrison

Born the daughter of a Custom’s officer, Karen Harrison left school at 16 to work at London’s Marquee Club. With a vision of becoming a train driver, Harrison applied to British Rail in 1977 with the aim of starting an apprenticeship as a Secondman. It is said that her struggle began the second she showed up for her interview as the recruitment officers had assumed she would be male. They immediately tried to push her into becoming a secretary. Even after she got the job, both managers and colleagues disapproved of her presence. After ten years of harassment, she transferred to Marylebone depot.

After the transfer, she rapidly advanced through the ranks of train driver’s union ASLEF. In turn, Harrison became the first woman to hold various positions in ASLEF, where she was elected to the highest position a lay member could hold in 1995. During this time she was an active trade unionist and political campaigner.

4. First female director of MI5

Dame Stella Rimington

After studying archive administration at the University of Liverpool, Stella Rimington began work as an archivist at the County Record Office in Worcester. In 1965, she moved to India, where her husband was offered an overseas posting as First Secretary for the British High Commission. After two years in India, Rimington was asked to assist one of the First Secretaries with his office work. It was during this work that she discovered he was the representative in India For MI5. In turn, this gained her security clearance to work in the MI5 office for nearly two years. 

When the Rimington finally returned to London In 1969, she applied for a permanent MI5 position. Between 1969 and 1990, Rimington worked in counter espionage, counter subversion and counter terrorism. In 1990, she was promoted to one of the two Deputy Director-General positions. It was only in 1991, after making the first friendly contact between British Intelligence and KGG in Moscow, that she was promoted to Director-General.

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