Marjory Stephenson (1885–1948)


The year 2018 marks the seventieth death anniversary of a significant yet almost forgotten British biochemist and microbiologist Marjory Stephenson, who was institutionally linked to the Medical Research Council and the Sir William Dunn Institute of Biochemistry in Cambridge. Stephenson's research concerned especially biochemistry of microorganisms, namely organisation and control of biochemical processes in the cells, and played a founding role in formation of chemical microbiology and microbial biochemistry, considered predecessors of molecular biology. Stephenson was elected in 1945 as one of the first two women fellows of the Royal Society and in 1947 as the second president (after Sir Alexander Fleming) of the Society for General Microbiology. She belonged to the few women in science of her time who pioneered new fields and managed research teams; in spite of that, she had to cope most of her life with practices of undeclared discrimination.

Keywords: Marjory Stephenson; Frederick G. Hopkins; history of biochemistry; history of microbiology; history of molecular biology; women in science; chemical microbiology; general microbiology; Medical Research Council; Cambridge Dunn Institute of Biochemistry

Figure 1. ‘Selfportrait’ of Marjory Stephenson from her humorous essay ‘Down the Microscope’, where parodying Alice in Wonderland she is shaking hands with a polite bacterium. The cartoon was published in the laboratory magazine Brighter Biochemistry No. 5, December 1927, p. 37.
Figure 2. Title page of the first edition of Bacterial Metabolism (1930).


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Stephenson M (1939) Bacterial metabolism, 2nd edn. London–New York–Toronto: Longmans, Green and Co.

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Further Reading

Elsden SR and Pirie NW (1949) Marjory Stephenson 1885–1948. Journal of General Microbiology 3: 329–339.

Kohler RE (1981) Stephenson, Marjory. Dictionary of Scientific Biographies 18 (II): 851–860.

Kohler RE (1985) Innovation in normal science. Bacterial physiology. Isis 76: 162–181.

Mason J (1996) Marjory Stephenson (1885–1948). In: Blacker C and Shils E (eds) Cambridge Women. Twelve Portraits, pp. 113–136. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Robertson M (1948/1949) Marjory Stephenson (1885–1948). Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society 6: 563–577.

Štrbáňová S (2004) Marjory Stephenson and the Medical Research Council—a new managing role for a woman scholar. In: Štrbáňová S et al. (eds) Women Scholars and Institutions, vol. A, pp. 415–449. Prague: Centre for the History of Sciences and Humanities.

Štrbáňová S (2008) Stephenson, Marjory. New Dictionary of Scientific Biography 6: 519–521.

Štrbáňová S (2016) Holding Hands with Bacteria. The Life and Work of Marjory Stephenson. Berlin/Heidelberg: Springer‐Verlag GmbH.

Woods DD (1950) Marjory Stephenson 1885–1948. Biochemical Journal 46: 376–383.

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Štrbáňová, Soňa(Jun 2018) Marjory Stephenson (1885–1948). In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0027988]