University of Edinburgh: Blue plaque honours pioneering woman scientist

Pickford became the first female Professor in the University’s Medical School when she was appointed to the Chair of Physiology in 1966.

Science of life
Her pioneering work in the field of neuroendocrinology made major contributions to our understanding of how hormones released from the pituitary gland in the brain control kidney and reproductive functions in the body.

Throughout her life she overcame the barriers to pursuing a career in science as a woman in the 20th century and became highly regarded as a meticulous experimentalist and an engaging medical educator. She was also highly supportive of young scientists.

Unveiling event
The blue plaque has been unveiled in the University’s Old Medical School Quad at Teviot Place. It is part of a scheme by The Physiological Society to commemorate outstanding physiologists who have contributed to the advancement of the discipline through their discoveries while leaving a legacy beyond their lifetime.

This is the fourth unveiling in The Physiological Society’s Blue Plaque scheme which intended to raise the visibility of 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.

David Paterson
President, The Physiological Society
Annual lecture
As part of the ceremony, Professor Dame Linda Partridge, from University College London and Founding Director of the Max Planck Institute for the Biology of Ageing, delivered the 2021 Mary Pickford Lecture entitled “Drugs for Healthier Ageing”.

PhD prize
Also at the event, the winner of the annual Alison Douglas Prize for best PhD thesis in the Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences was announced as Dr Laura Simoes de Oliveira, for her work on neurodevelopmental disorders. Dr Richard Fitzpatrick and Dr Caitlin Davies were awarded commendations.

The Annual Alison Douglas PhD Dissertation prize was established in 2015 in memory of Professor Alison Douglas following her untimely death. The prize acknowledges her passionate and supportive mentorship of numerous postgraduate students. Alison also played a central role in developing the Athena SWAN initiative within the Deanery of Biomedical Sciences, which aims to advance gender equality, representation, progression and success for all.

Mary Pickford
Born in India, Mary 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 the University of Edinburgh, where she studied oxytocin and anti-diuretic hormones.

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 Moira Whyte
Head of College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine