New catalogue: The archive of Mabel FitzGerald

The catalogue of the archive of Mabel Purefoy FitzGerald is now available online.

Mabel FitzGerald (1872-1973) was of one of the first women to attend classes in histology, physiology and other pre-medical subjects at the University of Oxford in the 1890s, and despite being denied the opportunity to take a degree or enter medical school, she embarked on an eventful career as a physiologist and clinical pathologist which led her from Oxford to Denmark, to Canada, the USA and Edinburgh.

FitzGerald Archive postcard

She became most recognized for her pioneering research on the physiology of breathing and her participation in the subsequently celebrated medical expedition to Pikes Peak, Colorado, in 1911. Her findings, gathered during extensive travels to remote Colorado mining towns, and published 1913 as The Changes in the Breathing and the Blood at Various High Altitudes, remain the accepted account until today of how the concentration of CO2 in the lung and haemoglobin vary with altitude in full acclimatization.

Working with Sir William Osler, John Scott Haldane, CS Sherrington and other eminent scientists, FitzGerald also successfully pursued an eclectic variety of other research interests from bacteriology and immunology to neuroanatomy and gastroenterology – for example, investigating (…and discovering!) the origin of hydrochloric acid in the gastric tubules.
In 1915 FitzGerald took up a position as Clinical Pathologist at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, and in 1920 was appointed Lecturer in Practical Bacteriology at the School of Medicine of the Royal Colleges in Edinburgh. For years, she also sat on the Board of Management of the school, before retiring to Oxford in the mid-1930s.

Read more about FitzGerald’s extraordinary life, and her contributions to medical science, in our blog series.
Some of FitzGerald’s papers – relating to her work in Colorado – will be on display in the next Bodleian Treasures exhibition, which will open later this month.

In addition to Mabel FitzGerald’s personal and professional papers depicting the life and work of a female pioneer in science the archive contains family papers, diaries and correspondence dating back to the 18th century, revealing the history of a well-placed Hampshire/Buckinghamshire of notable standing in the community and many connections to renowned contemporaries.

Meet the FitzGeralds: Mabel (2nd left) with her siblings, her father Richard Purefoy FitzGerald (left) and grandmother Eliza (middle) at the family home North Hall, Preston Candover, c. 1890.

FitzGerald’s paternal grandmother, Sarah Anna Elizabeth ‘Eliza’ FitzGerald née Purefoy Jervoise was a ‘learned lady’ who corresponded with the poet Robert Browning and other literary and intellectual figures of the time, whilst the male members of the Purefoy-FitzGerald family pursued professional, academic or military (…and occasionally: cricket!) careers, adding their letters, notes and diaries to the family archive.

A treasure trove full of big adventures and little stories, scientific papers and family memorabilia, with much potential not only for research in the history of science and medicine, but also for military history, local history and genealogy.

The Wellcome Trust Research Bursaries scheme funds individuals working on small and medium-scale research projects that focus on library or archive collections supported by a Wellcome Trust Research Resources Grant – such as the FitzGerald Archive.

Please visit the Wellcome Trust website for further information.

4 thoughts on “New catalogue: The archive of Mabel FitzGerald

  1. Hello Judith,

    Mabel FitzGerald went up to Pikes Peak for a day trip on 16th July 1911 (which was indeed a Sunday). We have a postcard, dated 15.7.11 in Colorado Springs where she writes: ‘I go up [to Pikes Peak] for the day tomorrow Sunday’. (MS. Mabel FitzGerald 41).
    She visited for a second time on 30th July 1911 (again, a Sunday).

    Best regards,

  2. Hello,
    I’m happy to have found this website. Does anyone know, on exactly what date Mabel Fitzgerald visited the expedition at the summit of pikes peak? Sources say she visited on a sunday 3 days after the group left. They went up to the summit on July 12th though. 3 days later would be a saturday. I’m happy about any answers and thoughts on this.

  3. Dear Melinda,

    Mabel FitzGerald’s sister Mary Frances was born in 1864 (died 1951, she had no children), so it is probably not her.
    Mabel FitzGerald’s father Richard Purefoy FitzGerald (1836-1895) had a sister called Mary, but as far as I know, she was born in 1845 (died as a teenager in 1860).

    Sorry, these are the only Marys born around the middle of the 19th century in ‘our’ FitzGerald family I am aware of. But then, both Mary and FitzGerald are quite commonly used (sur)names. Do you know how the person you are searching for is connected to the (Purefoy) FitzGeralds at Shalstone or Preston Candover?


  4. Does anyone know the birth date of Mary Fitzgerald or anyone in the family that had a birth date of January 17, 1843?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.