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March 2014

Posted on 04/03/2014

Professor Margaret Benson



This month we are celebrating International Women’s Day with the personal papers of Professor Margaret Benson, one of the first female professors in the country.

Professor Margaret Benson was born in 1859 and as a child was educated at home by her elder sister Henrietta. This month’s item was donated to the archives by Henrietta after Margaret’s death and is an early exercise book from Margaret’s home schooling, dated February 1871 . In it she shows an early interest in wildlife with this description of a squirrel.

In October 1893 she was appointed Lecturer in Botany and Head of the newly founded Department of Botany at Royal Holloway College and for twenty nine years she devoted care and enthusiasm to establishing a flourishing academic department and developing an excellent Botany Garden. Her early work in palaeophytology was carried out at a time when the technique of fossil cutting was in its infancy and for years she persevered at a small bench in a shed in the College grounds with a cutting machine worked by a gas engine. She was also a very popular member of staff and was remembered fondly by many ex-students.

‘We had Dr Benson – Dr Bunny as she was commonly called. Well, she was just a dear. For all her learning there was a most loveable naiveté about her. She was a staunch teetotaller, and nobody had the heart to tell her why the Sunday evening trifle tasted so particularly nice.’
Miss W. E. Delp, Head of Department of German 1908-1944

In 1912 she took up a Professorship in the University of London, one of the first women in Britain to do so. She was also one of the group of eleven women who were the first to be admitted to the Linnaean Society in 1905. She retired in 1922 and died fourteen years later, leaving many of her Botanical specimen as donations to the College.

Annabel Gill, College Archivist


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