Margaret Newton

Botany

Plant Pathologist: Expert in wheat stem rust

b. 1887; d. 1971

Newton earned money to attend university by teaching and entered MacDonald College in Montreal, McGill’s agricultural school. She earned top marks, won the Governor General’s medal, and decided to major in plant pathology, the study of plant diseases. She received her BA in 1918, followed by her MA the next year. None of these achievements were easy. As a woman she had to fight for the same access to the labs which male students had. Margaret’s graduate work was done in Minnesota and Saskatchewan with two wheat rust experts, E.C. Stakeman and W.P. Thompson. She received her PhD in 1922, the first Canadian woman to receive a doctorate in agricultural science, and taught at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. In 1925, Newton was appointed head of the new Dominion Rust Research Laboratory at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. Newton became the best-known Canadian expert in stem rust, a fungus which destroys wheat, and her work helped find ways to fight the disease. Crop losses, which had once been at least 30 million bushels, fell to almost nothing. She was the first graduate from an agricultural college to be awarded the prestigious Flavelle Medal from the Royal Society of Canada. She was also given the Outstanding Achievement Award from the University of Minnesota in 1956. In 1969, the University of Saskatchewan made her an honorary Doctor of Laws. She was forced to retire in 1945 due to poor health. Newton died in Victoria, BC in 1971.

Sources: Despite the Odds 1990

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