Box 2 | (Emma) Nora Darwin Barlow (1885–1989) at the John Innes Horticultural Institute, 1913

From the following article:

Opportunities for women in early genetics

Marsha L. Richmond

Nature Reviews Genetics 8, 897-902 (November 2007)


Nora Darwin (daughter of Horace Darwin and granddaughter of Charles Darwin) studied botany at Cambridge and was a student of William Bateson's 1906 course on 'variation and heredity', which he first named 'genetics' the same year (her notebook with lecture notes is in the Cambridge University Library). She later recalled this experience: ''My first introduction to the whole subject [of genetics] ... was when William Bateson was giving what we called his Bible Class, in a remote lecture room, in the back of one of the colleges. It was outside the ordinary curriculum. It was a five or six o'clock lecture. And there he introduced a small set of people into the elements of the new Genetics. Mendelism was just coming in ... He was a brilliant lecturer and, of course, he had an entirely new view of ordinary heredity ... It was very inspiring indeed."55 Following her marriage to Alan Barlow in 1911 and even after the birth of her six children (1912–1921), Nora Barlow continued to study the genetics of trimorphic species, visiting the John Innes Institute each summer until 1926 to examine the flowers that were grown for her there, and publishing the results of her work. She was among the founders of the Genetical Society in 1919 and attended its meetings regularly. Her son, Professor Horace Barlow (Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience, Cambridge University) recalls that when he was a child his mother did "...controlled pollinations of flowers that spent their time in muslin bags. She also went to meetings of the Genetics Society, and kept up with genetical friends such as R. A. Fisher — in fact we had at least one dog that was the result of one of his genetical experiments. But I don't think any of this resulted in any publications on genetics" (personal communication). At her memorial service in 1989, Alex Pankhurst recognized her scientific interests: "Nora studied genetics at Cambridge, and remained fascinated by the subject. From early on she tried her hand at hybridizing various flowers, including aquilegias — her experiments indicated by little muslin bags over the flower heads. On one occasion, however, she unwisely showed her children how to break off an aquilegias spur and suck out the honey. Thereafter quite a few of her experiments were tampered with."56 Today, Nora Barlow is best remembered for her pioneering editing of her grandfather's scientific and autobiographical works. Reproduced with permission from Ref. 56 © (1992) Cambridge Desktop Bureau.

Opportunities for women in early genetics