Margaret Newton (1887-1971)

Margaret Newton

Born in Montreal and raised on a tenant farm near Plaisance, Quebec, Margaret walked three miles to attend school. After high school she taught school in rural Quebec and then applied to study agriculture at McGill University’s Macdonald College. Initially turned down and told that no women had been successful in that course she was eventually accepted in 1914. At that time only male students could use laboratories in the evening – a rule she succeeded in having annulled. The first woman to graduate in agriculture there, she developed an interest in cereal rust diseases. She earned a Master of Science for her work and later a PhD on the same subject at the University of Minnesota, becoming the first Canadian woman to receive a doctorate in the agricultural field.

During a cereal rust epidemic affecting prairie grain farmers, the Government of Canada established the Dominion Rust Research Laboratory in Winnipeg and offered her a position. Research by Margaret and her colleagues helped to dramatically reduce crop losses to rust. This led to an invitation to Russia in 1933 where she worked for 3 months at the rust lab in Leningrad.

The second woman elected to the Royal Society of Canada, Dr. Newton later received the Flavelle Medal from the Society. In 1991 the Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame elected her posthumously as one of the initial inductees.

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