The Royal Society archive is pleased to announce that Rosa Beddington’s papers are now ready to be viewed by researchers.
The collection comprises the contents of Beddington’s office at Mill Hill, where she was Head of the Division of Mammalian Development at the Medical Research Council’s National Institute for Medical Research. Beddington was one of the most skilled and influential mammalian experimental embryologists of her generation, and she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1999. An earlier blog post reported the transfer of the Rosa Beddington archive from the Medical Research Council to the Royal Society. The acquisition of Beddington’s archive is particularly significant for the Royal Society, as this marks the first collection of personal papers from a female Fellow.
Beddington’s archive strikes a balance between the personal and professional. You’ll find photographs of Beddington, her old passport (reference number BED/1/1), and her undergraduate notebooks (reference number BED/1/4), including brief forays into diary keeping. And you’ll find ample evidence of Beddington’s surgical and experimental skills, reflected through a series of lab books (reference number BED/2/1) and microscope slides of mouse embryos (reference number BED/5/1). Together, the collection demonstrates the working life of an accomplished scientist who was also a much respected colleague.
As well as her exceptional scientific skills, Beddington was well known for her artistic talents, designing the British Society for Developmental Biology’s Waddington Medal. The BSDB later used one of Beddington’s artworks, of mice on a DNA helix, as the design for the Beddington Medal. So it’s perhaps no surprise that one of the most distinctive features in Beddington’s archive is the frequent doodling that you find in her papers. Conference papers are margined with designs of flowers, and abstracts with sketches of falling leaves. And on the cover of a ring binder lives a rather charming drawing of an elephant:
These drawings and doodles tell us something more about Beddington than we would find from simply reading her published papers. They speak of a sense of humour and creativity, and signal a busy mind at work and play. This doodling seems to have been something of a trademark for Beddington; according to a colleague, ‘Rosa would always position herself in the front row [at meetings], armed with her notebook and large tin of boiled sweets purchased en route at Heathrow. She would sit, suck and scribble (mostly careful little doodles of mice), but could always be relied on to ask an interesting question at the end of each presentation, however terrible the talk had been’. You’ll find the evidence of these thoughtful scribbles in her archive.
If you are interested in molecular genetics, embryology, developmental biology, microsurgery, or if you are simply interested in the processes of experimental science and the life of a working scientist, then do call in to see the collection.
You can find more information about visiting the archive on our website: https://royalsociety.org/collections/
With thanks to the Medical Research Council and the family of Rosa Beddington for gifting Beddington’s scientific and personal papers.