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Research scientist specializing in the study of grain rusts, and the first Canadian woman to earn a PhD in agricultural sciences
Born in Quebec in 1887, Margaret Newton taught for several years in that province after completing her schooling and qualifying as a teacher at the Collegiate Institute in Vankleek Hill, Ontario. This provided her with the funds to enter university. After spending one year in the Arts program at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, she decided to study agriculture at McGill University's Macdonald College.
Newton did well in her studies at Macdonald and won the Governor General's bronze medal for highest standing at the end of her second year. That same year, she became interested in rust diseases in plants and decided to focus on plant pathology. To that end, she joined the Quebec Society for the Protection of Plants, becoming its first woman member. She complemented her studies with outside activities, being active in the Debating Society and president of the class Literary Society.
In 1918, Newton graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture, the first woman to complete all the degree requirements at Macdonald College and one of the first women in Canada to earn a degree in agriculture. She followed this with a Master of Science degree in 1919, also from Macdonald College. During her course of study for both degrees, she had undertaken research on grain rusts with emphasis on wheat. This led to a research position at the University of Saskatchewan and doctoral studies at the University of Minnesota, upon completion of which she became the first Canadian woman to earn a PhD in agricultural sciences, in 1922.
The creation of a rust laboratory in Winnipeg led to more research opportunities and Newton was pleased to accept the invitation of the federal minister of agriculture to take charge of the new facility. She wrote more than 40 papers on rust fungi and assisted in the editing the journal Phytopathology. The economic significance of her research can be seen in the reduction of annual losses of wheat due to rust from 30 million bushels to practically none at the time of her retirement.
Dr. Newton's work was acknowledged in her election as fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1942, only the second woman to receive such an honour. In 1948, she received the Society's Flavelle Medal, the first woman to receive this award and also the first graduate of an agricultural college to be awarded that medal. In 1956 the University of Minnesota granted her its Outstanding Achievement Award, and in 1964 the University of Victoria named one of its residences Margaret Newton Hall.
While Margaret Newton enjoyed her work and appreciated her peers' recognition of its value, it is likely that the exposure to rust spores she encountered during research led to a worsening of her respiratory ailment and early retirement, in 1945. Despite this, Newton said she would not hesitate to do it all again.
Margaret Newton died in 1971 in Victoria.
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Conners, I. L. Plant pathology in Canada. Winnipeg : Canadian Phytopathological Society, 1972. 251 p.
Estey, Ralph. "Margaret Newton : Distinguished Canadian Scientist". Despite the odds : essays on Canadian women and science. Ed. Marianne Gosztonyi Ainley. Montreal : Véhicule Press, 1990. P. 236-247
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Inventive women biographies [online]. Toronto : Inventive Women Inc., c2000. [Cited June 25, 2001]. Access: http://inventivewomen.com/library/library_margaretnewton_mn.html
James, Mel. "Margaret Newton 1887-1971 : Defeating wheat rust disease". Wayfarers : Canadian achievers. Ed. Charles J. Humber. Mississauga : Heirloom Publishing, c1996. (Canadian Heirloom Series ; volume V). P. 42-43. Also available online: http://epe.lac-bac.gc.ca/100/205/301/ic/cdc/heirloom_series/volume5/volume5.htm
Johnson, Thorvaldur. "Margaret Newton 1887-1971". Proceedings of the Royal Society of Canada. Series IV, volume IX (1971). P. 83-86
_____. Rust research in Canada and related plant-disease investigations Canada. - Ottawa : Queen's Printer, 1961. 69 p.
Saskatoon Women's Calendar Collective. "Margaret Newton". Herstory 1987 : the Canadian women's calendar. Moose Jaw : Coteau Books, . P. 86
Newton, Margaret ; Johnson, Thorvaldur. Specialization and hybridization of wheat stem rust, Puccinia graminis tritici, in Canada. Ottawa : Department of Agriculture, 1932. 60 p. (Studies in cereal diseases, VIII. Bulletin no. 160 - New series)
Phillipson, Donald J.C. "Newton, Margaret". Canadian encyclopedia : year 2000 edition. 3rd print ed. Toronto : McClelland & Stewart, 1999. P. 1639. Additional information on Newton may be found in the electronic version of this publication at: www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com
Shell, Barry. Great Canadian scientists. Victoria, B.C. : Polestar, 1997. P. 166
Young, E. Gordon. "Flavelle Medal; Margaret Newton". Proceedings of the Royal Society of Canada. Series III, volume XLII (1948). P. 47-48