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Alexina McWhinnie (1923-2017)

Social worker, researcher, and advocate for the rights of adopted and donor-conceived people.

alexina mcwhinnie

Education and early career

Alexina Mary Dobson was born in Edinburgh in 1923 and spent her early years in the Morningside area of the city. She enrolled on the one year certificate course with the University’s Department of Social Study, graduating in 1943. She then went on to specialise in medical social work completing her training with the Institute of Almoners (now the Institute of Medical Social Workers) and her first professional post was as Assistant Almoner at Bradford Royal Infirmary, where she worked for two years. In September 1946, Alexina returned to Scotland having accepted a new post as an Assistant Medical Social Worker at the Lanarkshire Miners Rehabilitation Centre, Uddingston. In a letter to Nora Milnes, head of the Department of Social Study at Edinburgh University, she described her new post as “very interesting, especially as it is a new field for medical social work”. In 1954 she married fellow Edinburgh graduate, consultant psychiatrist James Barr McWhinnie.


Having been awarded a Carnegie Scholarship, Alexina returned to the University of Edinburgh to undertake a PhD on adoption, a subject for which she had developed a special interest. She completed her thesis “A Study of adoption: The Social Circumstances and Adjustment in Adult Life of 58 adopted children” in 1960 and it is available today in the University Library. Dr McWhinnie went on to become a Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Social Work at Dundee University where she dedicated the rest of her career to research into in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and donor insemination (DI) families.

Published works

Alexina authored a number of books on the topic of adoption and the donor-conceived. Her first book “Adopted Children, How They Grow Up” was published in 1967. She also edited “Who am I?: Experiences of Donor Conception”, a collection of essays written by donor-conceived adults.  Her other works include: “Following Assisted Conception: What Do We Tell Our Child? and “A DI Adult and Her Quest for Her Donor Father: Who Was My Biological Father?.

Later life

Alexina spent her latter years in Newport-on-Tay in Fife. In 2010 she was awarded an MBE for services to Adoption, Fostering and Assisted Reproduction. She died in April 2017, aged 93.


Student Admission File, Ref No: EUA IN1/ACU/S2/8/1/543 (Centre for Research Collections, Edinburgh University)

The Times Obituaries, 23 May 2017

Related links

Full list of research work while at Dundee University

“A New Profession”, project blog for Advisors, Advocates and Activists: A Century of Social Work in Edinburgh