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Eleanor Anne Ormerod (1828–1901)

Entomologist who became the first woman Fellow of the Meteorological Society and first woman to be given an honorary doctorate by University of Edinburgh.

Detail from the portrait of Eleanor Anne Ormerod that hangs in Old College.
Detail from the portrait of Eleanor Anne Ormerod that hangs in Old College. © The University of Edinburgh

Born in 1828 to wealthy land-owning parents in Gloucestershire, Eleanor Anne Ormerod developed a deep understanding of insects on her family’s 800 acre estate, studying any unusual specimens that she could find.

However, she was denied the educational opportunities of her brothers, and it wasn’t until she was in her 40s (and after her parents, who had never taken her endeavours seriously, had died) that she was able to begin her entomology studies in earnest and to share with a wider audience her increasing knowledge of insects, both beneficial and baneful to agriculturalists and horticulturalists. 

Greatest authority

With the benefit of a sizeable inheritance after her father died in 1873, Eleanor moved with her sister firstly to Torquay to be near relatives, and then to Isleworth in west London, where she was able to pursue her studies at the nearby Kew Gardens, becoming good friends with its influential director, Sir Joseph Hooker.

In 1877 Eleanor published ‘Notes for Observations on Injurious Insects’, which lead to a series of annual reports. In 1881, she published a special report on the turnip-fly, and in 1882 was appointed consulting entomologist to the Royal Agricultural Society, a post she held until 1892. For several years she was also a lecturer on scientific entomology at the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester.

Eleanor became known as one of the greatest authorities on economic entomology in England and the world, and played a pivotal role in establishing economic entomology as a science of national value and importance.

First woman

She also gave liberally to several St Albans charities, and other public projects in the parish where she lived, as well as to her church.

Eleanor was the first woman to be admitted a Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society, and the first to be awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Edinburgh. During the conferral of the latter she was described as the “protectress of agriculture and the fruits of the earth, a beneficent Demeter of the nineteenth century.”

A portrait of Eleanor Anne Ormerod was presented to the University in 1900, and now hangs in Old College.

Additional sources

Encyclopedia of Entomology - biography