Remembering Helen Stormonth Ogilvie (1880-1960)

May 17, 2023 by No Comments | Category Marine Directorate general, Marine Directorate Science

Three shelved bookcase filled with books and label at the top "Ogilvie Collection"

Helen Ogilvie’s book collection

On this day in 1880, Helen Stormonth Ogilvie was born who, as far as we know, was the first woman to be employed by the Fisheries Board for Scotland, now the Marine Directorate of the Scottish Government.

Born in Dundee, Helen Ogilvie studied at Dundee University College at the time it became affiliated to St Andrews University and graduated with a Master of Arts and also a Bachelor of Science, with distinction in Botany and Zoology.

Around 1911 Helen Ogilvie started working as one of the first female scientists at the Marine Laboratory in Aberdeen. At this time she also began working with the prominent Norwegian botanist Professor Haaken Hasberg Gran; analysing samples and became a specialist in plankton. She studied microscopic phytoplankton and zooplankton, and their role as food for ocean fish.

Plankton, a blanket term for phytoplankton and zooplankton, support nearly all marine life and Helen Ogilvie contributed to Professor Gran’s important thesis on plankton production in North European waters, published in 1912.

Helen Ogilvie dedicated most of her career to the study of plankton and published a number of scientific papers in her own right, and produced key plankton identification leaflets for the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). On a sabbatical with Sir D’Arcy Thompson in Dundee she drew many illustrations for his seminal work ‘On Growth and Form’, a text which is still used today.

Following her retirement in 1946 Helen Ogilvie continued her interest and remained voluntarily at the laboratory until her health began to fade. Upon leaving she bequeathed a wonderful array of books from her personal collection to the Aberdeen Laboratory.

She passed away peacefully in 1960 and left a legacy fuelling the international recognition of the Marine Laboratory in Aberdeen as a centre of expertise in plankton science.

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