Wednesday Geek Woman: Alice Stewart

Lesley Hall recently published an essay on the missing narratives of women in science in L Timmel Duchamp (ed), Narrative Power: Encounters, Celebrations, Struggles , Aqueduct Press, 2010

My nomination is the British epidemiologist Alice Stewart (1906–2002), FRCP (Stewart was honoured with the Fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians when this had been accorded to very few women, and she was the first to be awarded the Fellowship while still under 40).

Stewart had a long and important career, of particular influence in the field of studying the impact of low doses of radiation. Her pioneering elucidation of the association between x-rays in pregnancy and increased probability of the offspring developing leukaemia, although the subject of considerable controversy, led to the introduction of greater measures of protection when x-raying women who were (or likely to be) pregnant and the introduction of new imaging techniques. She devised a pre-computer method of recording intricate epidemiological data which enabled it to be read in numerous ways, which she called ‘visible tape’. Her career was negatively affected by contemporary gender attitudes: for example, when she succeeded to the position of Director of the Institute of Social Medicine at Oxford, the post was downgraded.

She later (post-retirement from her Oxford post) became involved in investigating occupational health questions in the nuclear industry and was widely called upon to testify in legal cases for compensation. She was also involved with many activist groups, in the UK and internationally, concerned about the environmental impact of nuclear power, and was particularly closely concerned with the Greenham Common Women’s Camp (including, in her 80s, helping to organise a women’s rock concert in support of the camp). She remained research-active and travelled widely to speak to scientific conferences and activist groups into her 90s.

Wikipedia: Alice Stewart
The Guardian: Obituary
The Independent: Obituary
The Right Livelihood Award 1986: Alice Stewart
Wellcome Library: Go ask Alice

Creative Commons License
This post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.