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Winifred Mary Curtis AM PhD DSc FLS

Tasmanian Honour Roll of Women logo
Winifred Curtis

Awarded for service to Science

Entered on roll: 2005


Winifred Curtis attended school in England and India before entering University College, in London, in 1924. She graduated in 1927 with a Bachelor of Science degree in botany, chemistry and physics, winning a gold medal and a prize for botany. She was granted a postgraduate scholarship for women and enrolled in an honours degree in botany. Winifred enjoyed working as a demonstrator in the Botany Department, but was unable to gain permanent appointment. She enrolled at the Cambridge Teachers College and in 1931 obtained her Teachers Certificate. Appointed as the Senior Science Mistress at a Girls High School in Manchester, Winifred continued her research and was awarded a Masters degree in 1939.

After her father’s retirement, Winifred and her parents decided to emigrate to Australia, arriving in Hobart in 1939. Winifred secured two part-time jobs, one as a science teacher at Fahan Girls’ School and the other as a demonstrator in the Schools of Botany and Zoology at the University of Tasmania. She was the second woman to be appointed to the academic staff of the university.

Winifred went on to become one of the founding staff members of the Botany Department and was offered an assistant lectureship in biology in 1942. Winifred was active in locating much of the equipment needed for the Botany Department and assembled the plant collections in her spare time. Appointed as a lecturer in 1945, Winifred obtained her PhD from University College, London, in 1950. Subsequent positions in the Biology Departments included Reader and Acting Head of Department.

Winifred wrote extensively on the endemic flora of Tasmania starting in 1945, with the four-volume The Students’ Flora of Tasmania, an ambitious undertaking that continued into her retirement. In 1948 frustrated by the reliance on British biology textbooks, Winifred wrote the first school certificate biology text for Australian high schools. She was the author of over 50 scientific papers and between 1967 and 1978 wrote the text for six volumes of The Endemic Flora of Tasmania sponsored by Lord Talbot de Malahide.

Winifred retired in 1966 and was appointed as an Honorary Research Fellow in botany at the University. Her published work submitted to the University of London earned her a DSc degree in 1968. Winifred played a key role in establishing the Tasmanian Herbarium in 1977 in which she maintained a lifelong interest.

Winifred’s valuable contribution to the understanding of Tasmanian flora has been recognised in many ways including the establishment of the Winifred Curtis Scamander Reserve and the naming of the Winifred Curtis Laboratories in the Department of Plant Science at the University. In 1977, Winifred was made a Member of the Order of Australia. In 1987 the University of Tasmania awarded her an honorary DSc.

Winifred was described as "the botanist whose texts have defined Tasmanian flora". Winifred was one of Australia’s most distinguished botanists and held in high esteem for her willingness to unstintingly share her scholarship with others.

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