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The Caroline Skeel Archives Reading Room

Ellen Delf-Smith (1883-1980) was appointed Lecturer in Botany at Westfield College in 1906, as part of the developments at Westfield College to increase its profile and offer degree-level science teaching.

Delf-Smith attended Girton College, Cambridge, where she earned a first in the natural sciences tripos.  In 1906, she took up the opportunity to teach botany at Westfield College, where she established the Botany department and its laboratories in attic rooms at the College.  The University of London approved the laboratories for teaching BSc students in 1910, and approved the preparation of students for degrees in botany in 1915.

Delf-Smith stayed at Westfield throughout her career, and became a Reader in 1921, and Head of Botany department in 1939. She retired in 1948. She was also President of the Westfield College Association from 1950-1955 and was appointed as an Honorary Fellow in 1955.

Throughout her career, Delf-Smith also carried on with her own research and field work, and published several papers. She was particularly interested the transpiration of plants, particularly in seaweeds. She carried out her work in London, Cambridge and elsewhere, including South Africa. In 1920, when she was doing research in South Africa , she collected several notebooks of specimens, which can be seen in the College Archives.

She was awarded the DSc degree by the University of London in 1912 for a thesis reflecting her original research, including her article on 'The biology of transpiration', for which she was awarded the Gamble prize from Girton College, Cambridge .

Delf-Smith was a member of several societies related to her teaching and research, including the Linnean Society, the South East London Botany Society, the Association of Women Science Teachers, and the Scottish Seaweed Organization. She died in 1980 after a long and successful career. To find out more about women in education see the Women at Queen Mary Exhibition.

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