Margaret Todd (doctor)

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Margaret Todd was a Scottish doctor who in 1913 suggested the term isotope to chemist Frederick Soddy.

A Glaswegian schoolteacher, in 1886 she became one of the first students at the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women after hearing that the Scottish Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons had opened their exams to women. She took eight years to complete the four-year course because, using the pseudonym Graham Travers, during her studies she wrote a novel, Mona Maclean, Medical Student. This was described by Punch magazine as ‘a novel with a purpose — no recommendation for a novel, more especially when the purpose selected is that of demonstrating the indispensability of women-doctors.’ After graduating in 1894 she took her MD in Brussels and was appointed Assistant Medical Officer at Edinburgh Hospital and Dispensary for Women and Children but retired after five years.

Her first book having been exceptionally well received and into further editions, she published Fellow Travellers and Kirsty O’ The Mill Toun in 1896, followed by Windyhaugh in 1898, always using her male pen name, although by 1896 reviewers were calling her ‘Miss Travers’ and by 1913 even her publishers added ‘Margaret Todd M. D.’ in parentheses after her pseudonym. In addition to six novels she wrote short stories for magazines. Her novels are still available, though at a high cost.

Despite the nineteen-year age difference, Dr Todd was the romantic partner of Dr Sophia Jex-Blake, founder of Dr Todd’s university and place of employment. Upon Dr Jex-Blake’s retirement in 1899 they moved to Windydene, Mark Cross, where Dr Todd wrote The Way of Escape in 1902 and Growth in 1906. After Dr Jex-Blake died she wrote, under her own name, The Life of Dr Sophia Jex-Blake, a book described as ‘almost too laboriously minute for the general reader’. She died at the age of fifty-eight, just three months after the book was published in 1918. According to one source, she committed suicide; her Times obituary states only that she died in a nursing home in London.

After her death a scholarship was created in her name at the LSMW. In 1913 she had suggested the word ‘isotope’ to her distant relation Frederick Soddy. Greek for ‘at the same place’, it suited perfectly and using it he went on to win the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1921.

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