Early Women Science Students
Apart from being able to apply to study sciences at the College on an equal basis with men, women could also apply for awards and scholarships. Some of them gained academic posts or went on to obtain employment in science.
Initially, the science subjects provided directly at the College were maths, botany and geography. If students wanted to study chemistry and physics, then these were available at Leicester Technical College (which eventually became De Montfort University). Between 1923 and 1925, the College introduced zoology, chemistry and physics.
Until the academic year 1928 -29, the first names of graduates were not listed in the Academic section of the Annual Reports. However, they were listed in the hand-written student records, dating from 1923, so it has been possible to distinguish men from women and identify which female students studied sciences.
Science students could either specialise in a particular subject or they could study for a general degree in which a few subjects were studied (geology was added from 1951). Those students receiving a BA in Mathematics rather than a BSc, were required to have passed at Advanced level, Pure Maths and either Applied Maths or Physics.
Female science graduates – what they did next
A few of the graduates are mentioned in Annual Reports and press cuttings. Some of them went on to complete a certificate of education at the university, which qualified them to teach.
Doris Alldridge (d. 1994)
One of our earliest graduates was Doris Alldridge. She studied Pure and Applied Maths and Physics, gaining a BSc in General Science in 1926. She appears to have lived her whole life in her parents’ home in Stoughton Drive North, Leicester. Following her death she was listed the legal notices section of the London Gazette as being a Printer’s Clerk.
Doris’s name is second on this list of student records from the year 1925 – 1926 (below).
Gertrude Clamp (b. 1895)
University College Leicester’s Report and Accounts for 1928-29, lists Gertrude Clamp (BSc in Botany) as the first student to be appointed to a University post, as an assistant in Botany at Aberdeen University. A copy of her PhD thesis produced in 1932, is still held there.
Her name is included in a list of Aberdeen students who had been awarded higher and honours degrees, published by the Times on 8th July 1932 (Issue 46180).
Lucy E. Holmes
Miss L. E. Holmes studied at University College Leicester for her MSc in Botany, which was awarded in 1933. The subject was on the anatomy of the pineapple. Dr Ethel Miles Thomas, the university’s Botany lecturer, reports on this directly in the Annual Report of 1930. The research was international in scope, involving academic institutes in UK, Kenya and Hawaii. Miss Holmes was still working in the Botany department in 1934, preparing some of this work for publication. Arrangements were made for her to work for three months in Department of Mycology (the study 0f fungi) at Rothamsted Experimental Agricultural Station, which still exists today as Rothamsted Research. The institution holds a Bronze Award from Athena Swan. (The Athena Swan Charter initially set out to encourage and recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine).
Lucy’s MSc Dissertation on the morphology and biochemistry of the Pineapple is available on the New Phytologist (Botanist) Foundation online library.
Betty Iris Carryer (1914 - 2005)
Betty Carryer graduated with a BSc in General Sciences in 1935. She secured a post at the London Control laboratory of J Lyons Ltd, which was responsible for the chemical control of the food supplies. At her time of joining, Lyons was one of the largest catering companies in the world and in 1950, developed the world’s first business computer.
Betty married Rev Arthur Nichols Ainsworth in 1939, in Barrow upon Soar, Leicestershire. She died on 9 March 2005, in Aylesbury Vale, Buckinghamshire, at the age of 90.
Betty was the second cousin of Marie Angela Carryer, who gained a Law degree at the University College Leicester, eight years previously (Marie's biography is listed in the 'Students of the 20s’ section of the University Heritage Project).
Violet Celia Sturgess (1913 - 2006?)
An article in The Leicester Mail in June 1937, detailed how Violet C Sturgess’s interest in science, was inspired by a radio talk on botany given by Dr Rose Scott-Moncrieff.
Once she gained her BSc in General Science, she wrote to Dr Scott-Moncrieff, who appointed her to a post isolating and identifying flower pigments at the John Innes Horticultural Institute (which is still exists today as the John Innes Centre).
Amongst the many articles she wrote and co-authored, was one on Natural anthocyanin (plant) pigments, which she wrote with Scott-Moncrieff in 1940.
Dr Scott – Moncrieff Robert studied for an undergraduate degree at Imperial College London and received a PhD from Cambridge in 1930, but as a woman, she was given only a certificate and was not allowed to join the university.
The John Innes Centre was awarded the Athena Swan Gold Award in 2017.
Dr Elsie May Burrows (nee Pearson) (1913 – 1986)
Elsie studied at University College Leicester and graduated with a BSc in Botany in 1935. In 1936, she took a post as a research assistant in the Department of the Botany at the University of Liverpool, where she spent her career until she retired in 1973. She was promoted to senior lecturer and chaired the Botany Dept. from 1967 to 1968.
Elsie conducted research on algae at the Port Erin Marine Biological Station on the Isle of Man. She made significant contributions on the interrelationships between marine algae and animals. She had a life-long interest in the ecology of macroalgae and whilst most shore ecologists were mainly concerned with descriptive studies, she was devoted to the use of culture experiments to explain ecological problems.
She has been described as a generous person, with both her time and her resources. Between 1960 and 1975, she trained no fewer than 16 PhD students. Many of these went on to become leading phycologists both in Britain and in North America.
She was a founder member of the British Phycological (algae) Society in 1952 and continued to be actively involved with the society until her death in 1986. The Society supports the Athena Swan Charter
Florence Marjorie Elkins (d.1991)
Marjorie received her PhD in Chemistry at University College Leicester in 1940, one of the first two doctorates to be awarded to full-time students. She was appointed an Honorary Research Assistant to Dr Hunter, University College Leicester’s Head of the Chemical Department. She also undertook a short course of lectures and shared some of the laboratory demonstrations.
Marjorie researched the chemistry of dyes, particularly specific compounds derived coal, which were of great value in industry, being used to make drugs, photographic chemicals and dyes.
In the Report of the College Council to the Governors for the years 1943 – 1945, it states that Marjorie, “On her marriage she found it necessary to relinquish the appointment of Honorary Research Assistant which she had held for a number of years”.
Marjorie married James Overton in 1943, who was the first specialist dermatologist to be appointed in Leicester. She went on to work at Leicester General Hospital.
She died in 1991.
Audrey Mary Cooper (nee Weston) (1928 – 2016)
Audrey Cooper graduated with a BSc in Mathematics in 1949, after which she taught maths for many years. Audrey taught at Collegiate Girls’ Grammar School, Leicester and became the Deputy Head Mistress.
After Audrey passed away in March 2016, her son Martin, described her legacy as
“all those girls to whom she taught mathematics from the 1960s to the 1990s.” He also tenderly recalls that, “she had me marching around the living room sofa repeating my times-tables as a young boy. Even I was not immune.” (From Leicester University’s Benefactors Review, 2016).
Sylvia Elizabeth Ladyman (1931 – 2019)
Sylvia was born in Aylesbury and went to Leicester University in 1948 where she studied botany and zoology. She was awarded a BSc in General Science in 1951 and a Diploma in Education in 1952. She worked in a variety of teaching posts before she moved to Eastcote, northwest London in 1966. Her last teaching post was at Northolt High School, Ealing, where she was Head of the Sixth Form.
Sylvia joined the RNELHS (Ruislip, Northwood and Eastcote Local History Society) in the mid-80s. She also joined Hillingdon Council’s Street Champions scheme, whereby volunteers actively report local issues, to improve their neighbourhood. Her passion for plant life, especially trees was of particular value in this role. A committed alumna, Sylvia remained in contact with the University of Leicester.
Researched and written by Jacqui Sealy