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Journal of the History of Biology

, Volume 40, Issue 3, pp 389–426 | Cite as

Muriel Wheldale Onslow and Early Biochemical Genetics

  • Marsha L. RichmondEmail author
Article

Abstract

Muriel Wheldale, a distinguished graduate of Newnham College, Cambridge, was a member of William Bateson’s school of genetics at Cambridge University from 1903. Her investigation of flower color inheritance in snapdragons (Antirrhinum), a topic of particular interest to botanists, contributed to establishing Mendelism as a powerful new tool in studying heredity. Her understanding of the genetics of pigment formation led her to do cutting-edge work in biochemistry, culminating in the publication of her landmark work, The Anthocyanin Pigments of Plants (1916). In 1915, she joined Frederick Gowland Hopkin’s Department of Biochemistry as assistant and in 1926 became one of the first women to be appointed university lecturer. In 1919 she married the biochemist Huia Onslow, with whom she collaborated until his death in 1922. This paper examines Wheldale’s work in genetics and especially focuses on the early linkage of Mendelian methodology with new techniques in biochemistry that eventually led to the founding of biochemical genetics. It highlights significant issues in the early history of women in genetics, including the critical role of mentors, funding opportunities, and career strategies.

Keywords

anthocyanin Arthur E. Everest biochemistry biochemical genetics Frederick Gowland Hopkins genetics interdisciplinarity in science Mendelism Muriel Wheldale Onslow Richard Willstätter William Bateson 

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Notes

Acknowledgements

I gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Anne Thomson, Archivist, Newnham College, Cambridge; Annette Faux, former Assistant Librarian, and Hazel Zheng, Assistant Librarian, Department of Biochemistry, Cambridge; Elizabeth Stratton and Kenneth Dick, former Archivists, the John Innes Centre, Norwich; and Godfrey Waller, Head of Manuscripts, Cambridge University Library. The paper was presented at the 2003 meeting of the International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology in Vienna; I thank Garland Allen for encouraging me to publish it. I also thank three anonymous reviewers for insightful comments and suggestions.

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© Springer Science+Business Media, B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, College of Liberal Arts and SciencesWayne State UniversityDetroitUSA

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