First woman appointed to Professorship at Edinburgh University's medical school has plaque erected

The Scottish Capital has become home to a new plaque celebrating the work of leading physiologist Professor Mary Pickford.

Tuesday, 26th October 2021, 4:55 am

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Unveiled by The Physiological Society this week, this is the fourth blue plaque of its kind and the first celebrating a female physiologist.

The society's plaques honour outstanding physiologists who have contributed to the advancement of the discipline through their discoveries, leaving a legacy beyond their lifetime.

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The new plaque celebrating the work of leading physiologist Professor Mary Pickford (Neil Hanna Photography)

The Pickford plaque, erected at Edinburgh University’s Old Medical School Quad, Doorway 3 was unveiled this afternoon by Professor Moira Whyte, OBE FRSE FMedSci, Head of College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine / Sir John Crofton Professor of Respiratory Medicine at the university.

Professor Whyte said: “We are delighted that The Physiological Society have honoured Professor Mary Pickford’s pioneering career and contributions to the discipline of physiology. She lived and worked in a time when women faced considerable obstacles and challenges in pursuing an academic career, even today these challenges remain. Mary Pickford rose to the very top of her profession and was hugely respected by all her peers.”

Professor Pickford made significant contributions to medicine and physiological science

Professor Pickford started her career when there were few women doctors and considerable prejudice against women scientists; she went on to make her mark on medicine and physiological science.

The Pickford plaque, erected at Edinburgh University’s Old Medical School Quad, Doorway 3 (Neil Hanna Photography)

Born in India, Pickford graduated in science from Bedford College, London, in 1924. While conducting pharmacological research part-time at UCL, with AJ Clarke and EB Verney, she trained in medicine and qualified in 1933.

After junior clinical jobs, she took a post as physiology lecturer at Edinburgh University, where she studied oxytocin and anti-diuretic hormone in dogs. She gained a DSc in 1951 and later was given an Honorary DSc by the Heriot-Watt University.

In 1954 she became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, in 1977 of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, and in 1966 of the Royal Society of London. In 1966, she was the first woman to hold a chair in the Edinburgh Medical Faculty. She published extensively and in 1972 was appointed Special Professor of Endocrinology at Nottingham University.

The plaques aim to inspire a new generation of psychologists

Over coming months, The Physiological Society will be working with institutions to erect blue plaques across the UK and Ireland, celebrating and recognising institutions where distinguished physiologists such as Nobel laureates who have made significant contributions to the discipline.

The blue plaques are also intended to raise the visibility of the physiology giving the wider public an insight into the positive role that ‘the science of life’ plays in their everyday lives. It is hoped that these plaques will spark curiosity and help inspire new generations to get involved in the physiological sciences.

The plaques provide long-term recognition of the impact these scientists and their science has had, and by extension these plaques provide a marker of excellence for the universities that they adorn.

Professor David Paterson, President of The Physiological Society said: “This is the fourth unveiling in The Physiological Society’s Blue Plaque scheme which intended to raise the visibility of the physiology and give the wider public an insight into the positive role that ‘the science of life’ plays in their everyday lives. It is hoped that these plaques will spark curiosity and help inspire new generations to get involved in the physiological sciences.”

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