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Dr. Nancy Atkinson (1910-1999)

MSS 0065


Biographical Note

Nancy Atkinson showing visitors the new Polio Research Laboratory

Nancy Atkinson obtained her Masters in Science at the University of Melbourne in 1932, having transferred from her initial field of chemistry to the relatively new field of scientific research, bacteriology.  She was appointed Lecturer in Bacteriology at the University of Adelaide in 1939 (Head of Department 1942) and was Reader-in-Charge, Department of Bacteriology from 1950-[1958].  She was unsuccessful in her application for the first Chair in Microbiology (1958) but she continued as Reader in the Department and in 1961 was given a personal Readership in Industrial Microbiology.  She was also appointed Bacteriologist at the Institute of Medical Veterinary Science in 1942, a position she held jointly with her University appointment until 1949. Atkinson established and directed the Salmonella Reference Laboratory at the University and discovered a new strain of salmonella, which she named Salmonella Adelaide. She was also the first person in the state to produce penicillin.

During her long career she was involved in research on salmonellas, initiating and directing the Salmonella Reference Laboratory and in the investigation of native plants and fungi with antibacterial properties potentially valuable in the treatment of typhoid and tuberculosis, contributing also to the Australia-wide Phytochemical Survey.  She lectured to students in science, agricultural science, medicine and dentistry and was involved in the establishment of courses in industrial (applied) microbiology.  Atkinson was instrumental in establishing the Australian Society for Microbiology, which developed from her original proposal in 1958 for an Australian Institute of Microbiology.

Nancy AtkinsonShe also helped to establish the Australian Institute of Food Science and Technology (South Australian branch) and the Water and Waste Water Association. Outside of science, Nancy Atkinson took a keen interest in South Australian artists, as well as the wine industry, establishing the Chalk Hill winery in McLaren Vale with her husband.  She also wrote two art books (under her married name of Benko): Art and Artists of South Australia and The Art of David Boyd.

Nancy Atkinson was awarded the OBE in 1951 and received her Doctor of Science degree in 1957 for her work on antibiotics and salmonellas.

These papers were received by the Library in April 1999 from her son, Dr Jonathan Cook. Series 19: 'Studies in bacteriology and immunology' was transferred from The Walter & Eliza Hall Institute in June 2011.

Contents Listing

Series 1: Correspondence
Personal and official correspondence (mainly letters received). 1937-1938, 1943-1961.  8 cm.

  • Letters on artificial insemination controversy
  • Letters of congratulation on Atkinson's D.Sc.

Series 2: Newspaper articles
Cuttings of newspaper articles regarding Atkinson and/or her research.  1945, 1950-1951.  1 cm.

Series 3: University correspondence
University correpsondence on Departmental matters (staff, students, facilities and equipment). 1954-1959.  3 cm.

Series 4: Application for the Chair of Microbiology at the University of Adelaide. 
Drafts, related correspondence and supporting documentation (including 1st and 4th-10th IMVS annual reports). 1958-1959.  4 cm.

Series 5: Papers on the History of Microbiology at the University of Adelaide
Compiled initially in 1947 and revised as part of a broader study of microbiology teaching and research at Australian universities by Prof. Vic Skerman (University of Queensland) in 1973.  1947-1973.  4 cm.

  • Related papers by Atkinson, in Infection and immunity (1956)
  • Historical summary of the development of the science of bacteriology (1957) and related correspondence.

Series 6: Talks, addresses, interviews, newspaper articles on Microbiology
Primarily talks of general interest given to community groups. c1943-1960.

  • ABC science commentaries and talks
  • Paper on ‘Chemotherapy and the antibiotics’ given at the Australasian Medical Congress, Perth 1948

Series 7: Lecture notes and practicals
Lecture notes and practicals.  1955-69.  15 cm.

  • Bacteriology I and II and Bacterial Physiology lectures, c1955-57
  • Department of Microbiology (SAIT) practicals 1963, 1965 and undated, and lecture schedule and practicals 1968
  • Applied Microbiology lectures and seminars (schedules, notes, students’ papers), 1969
  • History of Thought course, 1957 - lecture notes by Atkinson on the Birth and Rise of Microbiology and outlines of other lectures in the course
  • Issue no.1 of Jena Review and Zeiss Werkzeitschrift numbers 19-20

Series 8: Industrial and Applied Microbiology (Food Technology)
Various notes, correspondence, reports and papers on Industrial and Applied Microbiology. 1956-75.  15 cm.

  • Food (Chemical) Technology - Faculty minutes and reports, draft syllabus and articles relating to the creation of a Bachelor of Technology course, 1956-1958
  • Industrial Microbiology - (rough) lecture notes and background papers, 1957-1958
  • Vaccine correspondence and notes, 1958
  • Industrial Bacteriology - notes, correspondence, daily record of (commercial) product testing, 1962-1964.
  • Industrial and Applied Microbiology - tutorials and exam papers, and completed papers by students K.P. Pockock, Neville Gower and M.J. Reynolds, 1963-1965
  • SAIT Advisory Committee, School of Chemical Technology. Circular minutes etc. 1967-1971. [Atkinson was a member of the Committee from 1967 to 1973]
  • Drafts of paper on ‘Man, Microbes and Food’ for Australian Institute of Food Science and Technology symposium on the Microbiology of Food Preservation, Melbourne, March 1968. [note on file cover ‘Rappaport medium’]
  • Environmental Interdisciplinary Committee.  Minutes 1972 [re Bolivar Sewage Treatment Works Effluent]
  • Australian Institute of Food Science newsletters, 1973 and Memorandum and Articles of Association 1984
  • Environmental Studies Food Microbiology (proposed course) - correspondence and course outline, 1975

Series 9: Australian Society for Microbiology. 
1958-1966.  15 cm.

  • Original proposal by Atkinson for an Australian Institute of Microbiology
  • Related meetings and correspondence and drafts of the constitution (1958)
  • Circular minutes, agendas, notices of meetings, reports, financial statements and related correspondence, 1959-1966

Series 10: Medical Sciences Club of South Australia.
1942 and undated.  1cm.

  • Scientific communications and abstracts of papers given at meetings. .

Series 11: Penicillium, penicidin, streptomycin and other ‘new drugs’
1943-1945.  4 cm.

  • Correspondence and papers, and laboratory day book re penicilin production and penicillin standardization, 1943-1944.

Series 12: Antibiotics in fungi/plants. 
1944-1957.  20 cm.

  • Papers by Atkinson 1946 and 1949 and others (ie W.H. Wilkins) 1944-1948
  • Correspondence, record of plants tested 1945-1946 and 1948
  • Notes and day books re toadstool and mushroom testing 1948-1949 and plant and oil testing 1954
    see also: Series 15

Series 13: Salmonellas
1951-1960.  4 cm.

  • Papers by Atkinson
  • List of salmonella received for typing 1951-1956
  • Correspondence 1955, 1957-1960

Series 14: Essential oils.
1944-1946, 1951-57.  12 cm.

  • Correspondence, notes, papers by Atkinson 1955 and others (particularly A.R. Penfold and R. Grant)
  • Test results, lists of plants, record of samples received for testing 1951-1954
  • Laboratory day book ‘Antibacterial effects of Australian plants’ c1944
    see also: Series 12

Series 15: Phytochemical survey
Correspondence and notes, newsletters and publications of the Survey and of the 4th and 5th Australian Phytochemical Conference, 1955 and 1958.  1951-1959.  10 cm.

Series 16: Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine 
Correspondence, memoranda, notes, progress report on research, minutes of meetings of the Faculty of Medicine Sub-Committee for Research in Tuberculosis (1947).  1945-1948.  3 cm.

Series 17: ANZAAS meetings
Correspondence re participation and abstracts of 1964 symposia. [very limited].  1952-1964.  1 cm.

Series 18: Roseworthy Agricultural College - Wine (Marketing) course
Reports and submission regarding (re) accreditation.  1983-1984.  2 cm.

Series 19: Studies in bacteriology and immunology.
1933-1944.  3 cm.
Reprints and typescript papers by Atkinson, and collaborative papers for which Atkinson was primarily responsible, grouped in sections:

  • The coliform group and the bacterial examination of water
  • The production of gas by bacteria
  • Normal agglutinins
  • Swine erysipelas and the erysipelothrix group
  • Naso-pharyngeal flora in relation to upper respiratory infection
  • Immunization with certain mammalian tissues
  • The serology of the tobacco mosaic virus
  • The salmonella group
  • Antibacterial substances produced by moulds

The end of the preface contains the statement: "The University of Adelaide has advised me not to present a thesis along with this collection of papers."

Series 20: Biographical essay by Emma McEwin

Biographical essay on Nancy Atkinson, written by Dr Emma McEwin and published in Australian Journal of Biography and History, no. 1, 2018, 19pp.

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