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Trailblazer - Muriel Robertson

Updated: Oct 31, 2023

This is the fourth in our series of blogs introducing a high-level overview of the life stories of the women who our fleet of bikes is named after. We try to weave in some parts of their stories into some of our Glasgow bike tours however hopefully, these blogs provide a little more context.


Many thanks to Anabel Marsh from Glasgow Women's Library for writing this post.

Picture of Muriel Roberston as part of her degree class.
Picture of Muriel Roberston as part of her degree class.

Muriel Robertson was something of a trailblazer as a female scientist – a protozoologist and

bacteriologist, and one of the first women to be elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1947.


Muriel was born in Glasgow on 8th April 1883, the seventh of twelve children who all grew up to adulthood. She enrolled at the University of Glasgow in 1901, initially studying arts subjects and gaining an MA in 1905. However, her real aptitude was for scientific research, and she began to study protozoa — a type of single-celled organism.






Highlights of Muriel’s career and achievements include the following:

  • In 1907 she was awarded a Carnegie Fellowship to study trypanosome infections in reptiles in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Trypanosomes are parasites that cause illnesses such as sleeping sickness.

  • She joined the Lister Institute in 1909 and worked there for most of her career.

  • From 1911-1914 she went to Uganda on a temporary posting to study trypanosomes carried by tsetse flies, publishing path-breaking results.

  • In 1923 she received her DSc from Glasgow for a thesis entitled A study of the life histories of certain trypanosomes.

  • During both world wars, she made significant progress in the identification of the types of bacteria found in soil that cause gas gangrene, a frequent cause of death among soldiers. Her research contributed to the discovery of an effective vaccine.

  • Together with a researcher from Belfast, she investigated protozoa of the genus trichomonas, which caused serious health problems in cattle.

  • In 1948 she was awarded an LLD, having been elected to the Royal Society the previous year.

Below is a photograph of Muriel conducting some research on leeches.

Photograph of Muriel conducting some research on leeches.
Photograph of Muriel conducting some research on leeches.

Although she officially retired in 1948, Muriel continued as a well-respected and active scientist into her 80s. When she finally gave up work, she moved to her mother’s family estate in Limavady in Northern Ireland. She died at the age of 90 on 14th June 1973.


For a personal view of Muriel, read this short memoir by Sir James Howie in The British Medical Journal.

 

This blog is part of a Trailblazers collection, celebrating the lives of 10 women who we decided to name our bikes after! To find out more and click to see some of the other blogs, please click on Trailblazers: The 10 Women who inspired Gallus Pedals.


** Disclaimer - The photographs within this blog post come from Wellcome Images, a website operated by Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation based in the United Kingdom. A copy of the license for use of this image is available here. The use of this image does not imply an endorsement from the Licensor **

 

Anabel Marsh is a volunteer tour guide with Glasgow Women's Library (GWL). GWL now has six women's history walks, three longer trails, and one bike ride, all of which can be downloaded as self-guided tours from GWL's website. Guided walks take place during the summer months and can be booked via the library's events calendar.





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