Margaret Blackwood, Dame - Biography

Margaret Blackwood, Dame (1909-1986) DBE, MBE, PhD (Camb.), MS. Hon LLd (Melb), Deputy Chancellor, 31st March 1980 to 31st December 1983.

Margaret Blackwood was born 26 April 1909 in South Yarra, Melbourne, to Muriel Pearl (née Henry) and Robert Leslie Blackwood.


Educated at Melbourne Church of England Girls Grammar School (C.E.G.G.S) (1916–1927), Blackwood went on to train as a teacher at the Associated Teachers Training Institute (1928–1929) and then held the position of Senior Science Mistress at several Melbourne schools (1932–1938). Blackwood had an early association with university life; her mother Muriel Pearl had attended university and was one of the original members of the Classical Association of Victoria; her father Robert Leslie Blackwood lectured in Classics and was sub-warden of Trinity College, University of Melbourne until his death in 1926. In 1934 Blackwood commenced a Bachelor of Science at the University of Melbourne on a part time basis, while supporting herself by teaching. In 1938 Blackwood graduated with first class honours and as a recipient of the Howitt Natural History Scholarship. Subsequently as a research scholar in Botany with McBain and Caroline Kay Scholarships, she completed her Masters in Science (1939) in plant cytology and genetics.

World War 2

With the advent of the Second World War, Blackwood enrolled in the first intake of the Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force (W.A.A.A.F.). First assigned the duties of a drill instructor in 1941, Blackwood went on to work on the construction and protection of the R.A.A.F. cipher for the Pacific and upon her discharge in 1946 had become the Commanding Officer of Training Depots, having attained the rank of Wing Officer.

Lecturer and Dean of Women - University of Melbourne, Mildura Campus, (1946-1948)

In 1946 Blackwood returned to the Botany School, University of Melbourne as a demonstrator. With the end of the Second World War, the Mildura branch of the University of Melbourne was hastily established to deal with the influx of service personnel. Blackwood was appointed as Lecturer in Botany as well as the campus's Dean of Women.

Winning an ex-service British Council Scholarship, Blackwood went to the University of Cambridge (1948–1950) and was awarded a PhD (conferred in 1954) for her work in plant genetics, particularly of maize.

Senior Lecturer - University of Melbourne (1951-1974)

In 1951Blackwood returned to the University of Melbourne where she was appointed a Senior Lecturer of Botany, later senior associate and Reader prior to her retirement from the School of Botany in 1974.The recipient of numerous awards, Blackwood received a Carnegie Travelling Scholarship (1958) to study at the University of Wisconsin, USA and was an Honorary Research Fellow at Birmingham University in 1959.

Pioneer in Career and Executive Appointments

Blackwood was pioneering not only in her career as a geneticist but also in holding numerous high-ranking positions within the university and scientific community - many of which were the first to be held by a woman. In 1975, International Women's Year, Blackwood convened the University's Assembly Working Group on Women in the University which delivered a report recommending on future policy development. Blackwood was a Founding Fellow of Janet Clark Hall, its first Chairman (1964–1974) when it became an independent college affiliated with University of Melbourne (1961) and was elected the first honorary life member of the Association of Women on Campus at the University of Melbourne (AWCUM).

In 1977 Blackwood was appointed the Honorary Organizing Secretary for the Melbourne A.N.Z.A.A.S. (Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science) 48th Congress - the first woman to hold the position since the establishment of the association in 1882. She was made a Fellow of the Australian Genetics Society and of A.N.Z.A.A.S. (1979).

First Female Deputy Chancellor (1980–1983)

First elected to the University of Melbourne Council in 1976, Margaret Blackwood became the first female Deputy Chancellor (1980–1983) and, as such, was the first woman in the University’s 127-year history to confer degrees. Blackwood was also the first female Fellow of Trinity College (Melb.) in 1981 and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Law (Melb.) (1983).

In 1980 Blackwood was invited to chair the Consultative Council for Health and Human Relations Education in Schools, which was established to advise the then Victorian Minister for Education.

In recognition of her services to education and community involvement, she was awarded an MBE in 1964 and later a Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (1981). Dame Margaret Blackwood retired from the University of Melbourne in 1983. She died on 1 June 1986.

Blackwood was involved in numerous clubs and associations including:
  • British Lichen Society
  • Lyceum Club
  • The Catalysts' Society
  • Royal Society of Victoria
  • Australian Genetics Society
  • Beta Sigma Phi (Honorary Member)
  • Soroptimist International (Chairman 1957–1958)
  • International Federation of University Women (I.F.U.W.)

    Margaret Blackwood (detail)

    Margaret Blackwood collection BWP/2026