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Lady Margaret Hall Library: Early Science

Information about LMH Libray and our collections
Subjects: College Libraries

This is a previous exhibition, but if you are interested in viewing one of the objects you can make an appointment. Exhibitions in the library rotate once or twice a year. Have a look at our current exhibitions to see what's on at the moment.

Early Science

This exhibition, launched in Michaelmas 2017, looks at items from LMH Library & Archives relating to the theme of science.

By James Fishwick, Martyna Grzesiak, and Oliver Mahony

Science at LMH before WWII

Carroll's Game of logic

1 of 5 | Science at LMH in the 19th Century

A handful of our earliest students were interested in science, particularly mathematics. In our first decade Eleanor Best and Emily Morse both studied maths alongside other subjects from 1882–4, Ruth Sparrow (1884–6) was a physicist, Thomasina Prestidge (1885–7) a mathematician, and Laura Lester (1888–91) a chemist. In those early days our students attended special lectures organised by the Association for the Promotion of Higher Education for Women in Oxford (A.E.W.), or visited lectures in those Oxford colleges which permitted women to attend (by 1897 only Magdalen barred women from attending their lectures), or tutors from across Oxford visited LMH. Sometimes tutors visiting LMH were part of formal arrangements, and sometimes they were more informal affairs.

One such visitor was Charles Dodgson, the Christ Church Mathematical Lecturer and specialist in logic, who is better known today as Lewis Carroll. From Edith Langridge’s memoirs we know that Dodgson practised The game of logic at LMH. This was one of several popularist mathematics books published under Dodgson’s pen-name, to try to get fans of Alice’s adventures interested in the mathematic ideas underlying it. Dodgson clearly kept up a relationship with LMH, as he gave us copies of his books on logic in 1896.

Lewis Carroll, The game of logic (London: Macmillan and Co., 1886). Briggs Room 164 2

A section from the Brown Book about Lewis Carroll

2 of 5 | Memories of Carroll at LMH

“Another person of interest was Mr. Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) a lecturer at the House. He told Miss Wordsworth that he had composed what he called ‘The Game of Logic’ and wanted to try it out on some students who would case to play it; so she invited him to come to L.M.H. on several successive Thursdays after dinner, and we played it in the Drawing-room. About two years later I had the privilege of outwitting Lewis Carroll. Miss Argles told me that he was running some word problems which he called SYZYGIES in a weekly paper, so I took the paper and did them with enjoyment for most of the long vacation, getting high marks in the rather elaborate system of scoring. But then I saw a way in which one could increase one’s score by an unintended process, which, although it did not contravene the rules, practically spoilt the game. I could not see how the rules could be altered to prevent this but I hoped he could, so I sent in a specimen, and awaited the result in the next issue but one of the paper. Alas, it was, ‘This is the end of Syzygies; Lady Margaret has outwitted me.’ I felt extremely sorry as the game had been most attractive; and was sorry too that I had not added to the signature Lady Margaret ‘to whom you taught the game of Logic’.”

Edith Langridge, “L.M.H. 1885–8,” The Brown Book (December 1948)

Works by early LMH science fellows

3 of 5 | LMH Science Fellows before WWII

Perhaps LMH’s first fellow who was a scientist was Cora Booking Sanders Hodson, the eugenicist and Fellow of the Linnean Society, who read Modern Languages here from 1895–8 and taught here from 1902–6. However our first dedicated science tutorial fellow was Jean Orr-Ewing, a pathologist, who was a student here from 1916–20, a research fellow from 1927–9, and a full tutorial fellow from 1938. The other LMH science research fellows in the inter-war years were Elinor Gardner, the archaeological geologist who oversaw LMH’s wartime ‘Dig For Victory’ program, and the botanist and dendrologist Helen Bancroft. Works by each of them are displayed here.

C.B.S. Hodson, “Sterilization in Practice” Eugenics Review (1929) v.21(1) p.35

Jean Orr-Ewing and Vera Reader, “Note on the Meningococcus as a source of growth factor for Streptothrix corallines” Biochemical Journal (1928) v.22(2) p.443

G. Caton-Thompson and E.W. Gardner, The Desert Fayum (London: Royal Anthropological Institute, 1934). Downstairs Floor 913.68 2 & 3

Winifred Lamb and Helen Bancroft, “Report on the Lesbos charcoals” Annual of the British School at Athens (1939) v.39 p.88–9. Rolling Stacks

Entrance exams for Botany and Mathematics

4 of 5 | Student Scientists

Although we were somewhat lacking in scientist fellows, the women’s colleges often worked together to support their students, with tutors helping the other colleges and setting shared entrance exams to ensure students could do the full range of subjects (as these exam papers show). Scientists were relatively infrequent in our early days, but their numbers grew and grew. Several LMH science alumni served as nurses or ran hospitals during WWI. Between the wars women were finally allowed degrees and several of our scientists became keen members of the new research laboratories. During WWII, LMH scientists worked in military intelligence at Bletchley Park, as wrens, in hospitals, and famously alongside Florey mass-producing penicillin.

Lady Margaret Hall & Somerville College, Joint Scholarship and Entrance Examination (Oxford, 1941). Archives, Educational papers

Advert for Einstein's lecture at LMH

5 of 5 | Einstein visits LMH

The Deneke Lectures are yearly talks at LMH given in memory of musicologist Philip Maurice Deneke, who died in 1924. They have attracted various prominent experts to the College to talk on topics of their choice. On June 13th 1933, the speaker was Albert Einstein.

Einstein was friendly with Margaret Deneke (1882–1969, the daughter of Philip Deneke), who was a tireless fund-raiser, musicologist, and sometime Choirmaster of LMH. When he visited Oxford he played in quartets organised by the Denekes, and Margaret recorded all the times she met him in her unpublished memoirs:

June 13th. The Deneke lecture was packed and many of our best friends failed to get seats. Sir Charles Sherrington took the Chair. Whilst Dr. Einstein was speaking and using the blackboard I thought I understood his arguments. When someone at the end begged me to explain points I could reproduce nothing. It had been the Professor’s magnetism that held my attention.

June 14th. I cycled to Christ Church with twenty five treasury notes; Professor Einstein said: ‘What a large packet of lovely money, and it was a rubbishing lecture.’ He asked me to take the money to Barclays Bank and dispatch it to a friend who was in distress.”

Margaret Deneke, What I Remember v.2 p.26. Archives MPP 3 A 2.2

Deneke Lecture (Oxford, 1933). Archives GOV 3/7/7

Elinor Ewbank, LMH Chemistry Student

LMH in 1901, featuring Elinor Ewbank

1 of 5 | Student at LMH

Elinor Katherine Ewbank (1880–1958) was a student at LMH from 1899–1903: she is depicted here in the 1901 group photo, 4th from left on the back row. She was a much-liked student, quiet and steady, with a deep sense of selflessness. She was also very talented, with a natural flair for Chemistry that she shared with her relative Dr. Wollaston, and she got a first class in Natural Sciences (Chemistry).

LMH group photograph, 1901. LMH Archives, Album 2

Two articles by Elinor Ewbank

2 of 5 | To the First World War

After she left LMH she went to UCL, where she spent two years doing research with Edward Charles Cyril Baly at their Spectroscopy Laboratory, and co-authored two papers with him in 1905. During World War One her love of travel and her desire to help people combined perfectly into a career as a nurse and an ambulance radiographer, including serving with ‘Princess Peter Wolkowsky’s Ambulance Flying Column’ and the Red Cross in South Russia and Galicia, and with the First British Ambulance Unit in Italy.

E.C.C. Baly and E.K. Ewbank, “CXXXIII.—The ultra-violet absorption spectra of aromatic compounds. Part II. The phenols” Journal of the Chemical Society, Transactions (1905) v.87 p.1347–1355

E.C.C. Baly and E.K. Ewbank, “CXXXIV.—The ultra-violet absorption spectra of aromatic compounds. Part III. Disubstituted derivatives of benzene” Journal of the Chemical Society, Transactions (1905) v.87 p.1355–1360

Six articles by Elinor Ewbank

3 of 5 | Return to Oxford

Later in the war her scientific skills were put to use, returning to Oxford to work in the Chemical Warfare Department doing research on explosives. After the war Elinor remained in Oxford, working for the Scientific and Industrial Research Department and then becoming the first female researcher in the Dyson Perrins Laboratory, working there through the 1920s. She primarily worked alongside Nevil Sidgwick, co-writing a number of articles with him.

N.V. Sidgwick and E.K. Ewbank, “LXI.—The stability of tautomeric formaldehyde-phenylhydrazones” Journal of the Chemical Society, Transactions (1921) v.119 p.486–492

N.V. Sidgwick and E.K. Ewbank, “CVII.—The influence of position on the solubilities of the substituted benzoic acids” Journal of the Chemical Society, Transactions (1921) v.119 p.979–1001

N.V. Sidgwick and E.K. Ewbank, “CCXXII.—The solubility of the alkali salts of benzoic and the hydroxybenzoic acids in water” Journal of the Chemical Society, Transactions (1922) v.121 p.1844–1853

N.V. Sidgwick and E.K. Ewbank, “CCCII.—The measurement of the vapour pressures of aqueous salt solutions by the depression of the freezing point of nitrobenzene” Journal of the Chemical Society, Transactions (1924) v.125 p.2268–2273

N.V. Sidgwick and E.K. Ewbank, “CCCIII.—The hydration of salts and their effect on the vapour pressure of water” Journal of the Chemical Society, Transactions (1924) v.125 p.2273–2275

T.W.J. Taylor and E.K. Ewbank, “CCCLXXV.—The metallic compounds of certain monoximes and the structure of the oximes” Journal of the Chemical Society, Transactions (1926) v.129 p.2818–2825

Elinor Ewbank at Mt Carmel

4 of 5 | Beyond Oxford

Elinor’s desire to travel and to help always ate away at her time in Oxford. She did soil research at the Hebrew University, and helped Dr. Dorothy Garrod (later the first female Oxbridge professor) in her excavations of the Neanderthal caves of Mount Carmel. In this photo from the excavations the three central figures are Dorothy Garrod, Elinor Ewbank, and Mary Kitson Clark of Girton, whilst the two women flanking are Dean Harriet M. Allyn and Dr Martha Hackett, of the American School of Prehistoric Research.

D. Garrod’s excavation at Mount Carmel, 1929. Pitt Rivers, 1998.294.706

Elinor Ewbank's plaque

5 of 5 | Legacy

Elinor was famed for her unselfish personal service, working for a wide variety of causes including sitting on the First Council of LMH, organizing Margaret Deneke’s fundraising work on the LMH Building Appeal, and being involved with the LMH Settlement, N.S.P.C.C., Palestinian Relief Committee, Oxford Preservation Trust, Citizen’s Advice Bureau, St. Marylebone Shelter Council, Home Students’ Sports Committee, National Council of Women, and Oxford Committee for Famine Relief. When she died, her obituary in the Brown Book was full of memories of her kindness, to charities and friends.

Cosmology from Aristotle to Galileo

Bailly's Histoire de l'astronomy ancienne

1 of 3 | Ancient Astronomy

The Aristotelean geocentric model of the universe, as developed by Claudius Ptolemy (90–168), was preeminent for over a thousand years. In this model, the Earth sat at the middle of the universe, heavy and stationary, made of the four terrestrial elements. It was surrounded by the planetary spheres, containing the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and finally the fixed stars, all made of one special light and shining element: aether. It included a complex system of orbits, epicycles and deferents, which precisely matched observed planetary movements and enabled accurate predictions of their future and past positions.

This geocentric model was supported by Biblical references like 1 Chronicles 16:30 and Psalm 104:5 (which say that the Earth is stationary) and Ecclesiastes 1:5 and Joshua 10:13 (which mention the movement of the sun). Thus the Ptolemaic model, matching observed planetary movements and supported by Scripture, was unassailable in Christian Europe for over a thousand years.

The geocentric model was challenged by Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543). He proposed a heliocentric model, in which the Sun was the centre of a Solar System, orbited by the Earth, all the planets, and the stars, with the Moon orbiting the Earth (which also rotated on its axis, and the axis moved).

This book and the next were both part of the Edward Hugh Norris Wilde bequest. His wife, Agnes Clay, was a Classics student here from 1886–1900, and a tutor from 1901–10.

Jean Bailly, Histoire de l’astronomie ancienne (Paris: De Bure, 1781). Briggs Room 520.9 1

Illustrated titlepage for Galileo's Dialogus

2 of 3 | Copernicus and Galileo

This heliocentric model remained purely theoretical until 1610 when Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) observed, using the newly-invented telescope, that Venus exhibited a full set of phases, similar to the Moon, proof that Venus must orbit the sun. This led to a clash with the Catholic Church, which in 1616 forbade teaching that the Copernican system was anything other than a mathematical model, and placed De revolutionibus on the Index of Forbidden Books. In 1632 Galileo published a book, Dialogo sopra i due massimi sistemi del mondo, which supposedly presented a neutral dialogue on the relative merits of the Ptolemaic and Copernican systems. However, whilst the Copernican system was given great weight and support in the book, the Ptolemaic model was argued weakly by a character called Simplicio. The Catholic authorities felt that the book was was too biased against the Ptolemaic model, placed it on the Index, and kept Galileo under house arrest for the rest of his life.

Copernicus’ heliocentric universe was a fascinating new model. However, in many ways it wasn’t revolutionary enough. He still thought that the stars and planets were made of weightless shining aether; that their spheres moved in perfect circles (to make his model fit the observed movements of the planets he had more epicycles than Ptolemy); and that the solar system was the centre of the universe.

The system proposed by Copernicus has been continually refined, as people came to realise that the Sun was just another star; that the heavenly bodies were made of the same elements as found on Earth; and that the universe did not revolve around our solar system. Johannes Kepler (1571–1630) introduced elliptical orbits and removed the epicycles, making the model far more elegant. Galileo, as noted, used evidence from telescopic observation to improve and prove the modified model. Newton’s Principia Mathematica explained gravity and celestial motion. Eventually even the Newtonian theory of gravity was replaced, by Einstein’s relativity.

Galileo Galilei, Systema cosmicum (London: Thomam Dicas, 1663). Briggs Room 504.1 9

Wilkins' Discovery of a new world

3 of 3 | Telescopic Breakthroughs

Some of the early observations using telescopes were revolutionary breakthroughs, whilst others were somewhat less reliable. This book by Bishop John Wilkins (1614–72), for example, is derived from the study of the Moon through a telescope. Whilst some of its conclusions (that the Moon is solid not made of aether, that it reflects light not generates it, that it has mountains and valleys, that it is possible for us to visit it, and that this means that the Earth is not unique and might be just another planet) are well-founded, others veer slightly more into the realms of science fiction. Alas, more recent discoveries now lead us to believe that there are no seas on the Moon and there are no “Inhabitants in this other World”.

John Wilkins, A discovery of a new world (London: J. Rawlins for John Gellibrand, 1684). Briggs Room 520.9 5

Newton and his Followers

Newton's Principia

1 of 3 | Newton's Great Work

Sir Isaac Newton’s Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica (or the Mathematical principles of natural philosophy) was first published in Latin in 1687; an English translation would follow in 1728. In the Principia Newton lay down the three laws of motion (leges motus in the original Latin) which are the basis of classical mechanics, as well as proposing solutions to a number of mathematical problems, such as that of planetary motion. Newton’s ideas were presented and justified entirely in terms of geometry, a branch of mathematics which would soon be eclipsed by calculus, the use of which Newton developed in the Principia. The work builds on his previous De motu corporum in gyrum (Of the motion of bodies in an orbit), which had been composed under the warm encouragement of astronomer Edmond Halley.

Isaac Newton, Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica (Cologny: C. & A. Philibert, 1760). Briggs Room 504.1 25–27

MacLaurin's Account of Newton

2 of 3 | Newton's Disciples

Although Newton’s theories were not immediately universally accepted, within decades they gained support from other scientists. Amongst those was Colin MacLaurin (1698–1746), whose Account of Sir Isaac Newton’s philosophical discoveries from 1748 is on display here. Something of a child prodigy, MacLaurin graduated the University of Glasgow with an MA at the age of 14, defending a thesis on the Power of Gravity – showing a precocious interest in the works of Newton – and at the age of 19 became the youngest ever professor of mathematics with a post at Aberdeen University, a world record he held until 2008. This copy of his work was bequeathed to LMH in 1940 by Alex Whitson, together with our copy of the 1760 edition of Newton’s Principia.

Colin MacLaurin, An account of Sir Isaac Newton’s philosophical discoveries (London: A. Millar, 1748). Briggs Room 504.1 28

Newton's Chronology

3 of 3 | Newton's Other Works

In what might seem a somewhat peculiar book for today’s reader, the Chronology of ancient kingdoms amended, Newton engages with the field of chronology. Taken to be the “key to history” by Newton’s contemporaries, it was a science that depended upon careful consideration of available sources, such as historical accounts, in order to ascertain the exact order of past events. Within his work Newton claims that the Greeks, Egyptians and Latins, among others, had overestimated their antiquity in a bid to appear more distinguished. For this reason he goes on to propose a new – amended – history of biblical and ancient domains.

A handwritten ownership note reveals the volume to have been in the hands of James Veitch, Lord Elliock, 18th century Scottish politician and landowner. It arrived at LMH in 1937 as part of the bequest of Edward Hugh Norris Wilde.

Isaac Newton, Chronology of ancient kingdoms amended (London: for J. Tonson et al., 1728). Briggs Room 930 40F

Botantical Collections

Parkinson's Park in the Sun

1 of 3 | The Park in the Sun

John Parkinson (1567–1650), was one of the great English writers who straddled the divide between the last herbalists and the first botanists; apothecary to James I and Royal Botanist to Charles I. Parkinson’s first great work was Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris (1629), a guide to the laying out and cultivation of flower gardens, kitchen gardens, and orchard gardens. It is famous for its large and beautiful full-page plates, showing the plants he discusses — as well as for the terrible pun in its name (Parkinson’s Park-in-Sun Terrestrial Paradise). Our copy is of the beautiful 1904 reproduction made by Methuen, which wonderfully captures the feel of the original.

John Parkinson, Paradisi in sole paradisus terrestris (London: Methuen & co., 1904). Briggs Room 580 5F

Parkinson's Theatre of Plants

2 of 3 | The Theatre of Plants

Parkinson knew that he wanted to write about herb gardens and medicinal plants after his Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris, but it took another 11 years before his Theatrum Botanicum was finally published, in 1640 (it was apparently delayed partly because Thomas Johnson’s editions of Gerard’s Herball in 1633 and 1636 cornered the market). When it finally arrived the wait was worth it; Parkinson covered many more plant species than Gerard, including being the first author to describe a number of native British plants that had never received formal academic attention before.

Our copy is the first edition, and is particularly interesting because it includes a large number of corrections done by an early owner, when the Latin classification of plants was in a state of flux. The original classification might seem arbitrary to today’s reader, with classes that include sweete smelling plants and hot and sharpe biting plants. Numerous annotations in an 18th century hand update the names of the individual plants to conform with Carl Linnaeus’ binomial classification system. We know the name of our careful annotator, Geo: Heyward, but sadly nothing else.

John Parkinson, Theatrum botanicum: the theatre of plants (London: Thomas Cotes, 1640). Briggs Room 580 3 & 4

The Flora Danica

3 of 3 | Plants of Denmark

Advances in print technology allowed book publishers to move from woodcuts to copperplates. This new technique was employed to create the wonderful, hand-coloured plates in Flora Danica.

A product of the age of Enlightenment, the Flora Danica is a colossal encyclopaedia of botany which set out to accurately and faithfully represent all of the plants native to Denmark – aiming at life-size reproductions whenever possible. It is also one of the first major botanic publications to use the Linnaean naming system. Interestingly, the publishers of the Flora Danica wanted to use their work to educate the general public. For this purpose they sent copies to parishes across the country, at the same time hoping that readers would contribute their own knowledge of lesser-known native plant species.

Our set was presented to LMH by John Ruskin (1819–1900), eminent art critic and early benefactor of the college. Ruskin was a strong supporter of education for women, and, following his visit in 1884, donated a selection of books to the library that also included works by himself and by the 18th century novelist Maria Edgeworth.

Flora Danica, vol. 2 (Copenhagen: Claude Philibert, 1763). Briggs Room 581.9489 2

The Industrial Revolution and Darwin’s Theory of Evolution

Malthus's Essay on population

1 of 3 | Competition over scarce resources

“The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man," Thomas Robert Malthus (1766–1834) wrote in the opening chapter of his Essay on the principle of population. This English economist and cleric considered the potential outcomes of an overgrown human population, prompted by the effects of the industrial revolution. The implications of a scarcity of resources for a growing population, and ideas of competition propounded by Malthus directly influenced Charles Darwin, who had a copy of Malthus’ Essay with him on board HMS Beagle during his 1831–6 voyage to the Galapagos Islands.

This copy of Malthus’ work was presented to the library by Eleanor Lodge, LMH alumna and later Vice-Principal.

Thomas Malthus, An essay on the principle of population (London: Thomas Bensley for Joseph Johnson, 1806). Briggs Room 330.1 5 & 6

Darwin's Origin of the Species

2 of 3 | "Survival of the fittest"

Charles Darwin’s monumental The origin of species is a work that hardly needs an introduction. Met with strong opposition by many of his contemporaries – and not accepted by some of ours – this text lay out Darwin’s ideas on evolution as a gradual process whereby speciation occurred as organisms best adapted to their environment were able to pass on their favourable characteristics to their offspring. The phylogenetic (evolutionary) tree, a visual aid that shows species as having a common ancestor, was popularised by its use in this work.

Its text underwent a number of corrections by the author, with the fifth edition, on display here, presenting a much revised version of the original text. For instance, in this particular edition, in the heading of Chapter IV, the term “survival of the fittest” is used by Darwin for the first time.

Charles Darwin, The origin of species (London: John Murray, 1869). Briggs Room 575 30

Darwin's Descent of Man

3 of 3 | "Whether man, like every other species, is descended from some pre-existing form"

Darwin hardly ever used the term “evolution,” himself preferring the phrase “descent with modification.” The word itself occurs, for the first time in any of Darwin's works, on page 2 of The descent of man, his second major work on evolutionary theorybefore its appearance in the sixth edition of The origin of species in the following year. As can be read towards the top of the page, the author laments the fact that “Of the older and honoured chiefs in natural science, many unfortunately are still opposed to evolution in every form.”

The topic of this work, “the origin of man and his history,” was anticipated in the conclusion of The origin of species; Darwin set out to narrow down the focus of scientific inquiry in order to apply the general principles of evolution to a single species. On display here we have a first edition copy.

Charles Darwin, The descent of man (London: John Murray, 1871), vol. 1. Briggs Room 575 11

Contact the Library

LMH Special Collections are open to visitors by appointment during staffed hours, Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. We are trying to limit external visitors as much as possible, during the pandemic.

Lady Margaret Hall Library
Norham Gardens
United Kingdom



Telephone: (01865) 274361

James Fishwick, Librarian

James Fishwick (Librarian)