RSE Fellows, past and present, are an illustrious rollcall of leading scientists and thinkers. In common with other similar organisations with such a long-standing history, women were only able to join its ranks relatively recently. Five groundbreaking women joined the Fellowship in 1949. They led the way as role models for future Fellows and were the first of many women to play a significant role in the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s history.

Charlotte Auerbach standing in front of a mirror posing for the camera
Dr Charlotte Auerbach in her lab, King’s Buildings, Edinburgh. Taken by Prof Yataro Tazima, 25 September 1953 (used in Biogr. Mems Fell. R. Soc. 1 November 1995 vol. 41 20-42) Photo credit: Royal Society

Dr Charlotte Auerbach FRSE

Charlotte Auerbach was a Zoologist and Geneticist. Charlotte fled from Nazi Germany in 1933 aged 34, after being dismissed from her teaching posts for being Jewish. She moved to Edinburgh and gained her PhD in 1935; she researched the effects of mustard gas, finding that it caused often lethal mutations in fruit flies.

A person sitting on a bench
Dr Ethel Currie FRSE | Photo credit: University of Glasgow

Dr Ethel Currie FRSE

Ethel Currie was an esteemed Scottish Geologist, who worked at the University of Glasgow as Assistant Curator of the Hunterian Museum, focusing on Palaeontology as her specialism. In 1945, Currie was the first woman to be awarded the Neill prize by the RSE and in 1952, she became the first women President of the Geological Society of Glasgow.

A person posing for the camera
Dr Sheina Marshall OBE FRSE | | Photo credit: University of Glasgow

Dr Sheina Marshall OBE FRSE

From the Isle of Bute, Sheina Marshall was a Scottish Marine Biologist who played a crucial role in medical research during the Second World War. She researched different ways of obtaining agar, which was required to produce vaccines, by scouring the shores for seaweed. Marshall and her colleague, Andrew Picken, identified a strand of seaweed, ‘False Irish Moss’, as the best local source of agar. Prior to the war, Britain used to import agar from Japan and Marshall was able to identify sources of agar from many British beaches thanks to this common seaweed.

A vintage photo of a person
Dr Christina Cruikshank Miller FRSE | Photo credit: Heriot-Watt University

Dr Christina Cruikshank Miller FRSE

Christina Cruikshank Miller made crucial discoveries in analytical chemistry. She was the only woman amongst the first 25 Fellows of Heriot-Watt College and consistently fought for her place as a woman in a male-dominated research field. An inspiration to her fellow teachers and students, she was partially deaf and suffered blindness in one eye following an accident in her lab. Her pioneering work included producing the first sample of pure phosphorous trioxide, which proved that it was not responsible for the glow emitted from phosphorous, as had been claimed by others.

A vintage photo of a person
Dr Doris Reynolds FRSE | Photo credit: unknown

Dr Doris Reynolds FRSE

Doris Reynolds was a British Geologist who made considerable contributions to the field of Geology and was awarded the Lyell Medal from the Geological Society of London in 1960. During the 1940s, Reynolds developed the theory of ‘granitisation’ to try to explain the formation of granite in the Earth’s crust. Although the theory was later disproved, it led to greater research and understanding in this area.

The RSE Today

As Scotland’s National Academy, the RSE is proud to number amongst its Fellowship some of the most talented leaders, thinkers
In recognition of International Women’s Day 2022, we highlight the changing environments where some of our RSE community.
A 2018 follow-up progress review of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in Scotland by the RSE.