Margaret Barr Moir


Quick Info

Born
7 July 1883
Cairneyhill, Fife, Scotland
Died
25 March 1975
South Croydon, London, England

Summary
Margaret Barr Moir was a Scottish mathematical physicist who became a lecturer in mathematics at the University of Western Australia in Perth. She may be the first woman appointed as a university lecturer in mathematics in Australia. She lost her job after the University had to make substantial cut-backs following the Great Depression.

Biography

Margaret Barr Moir was the daughter of John Moir and Mary McMurchy. John Moir had been born in Glasgow on 16 April 1848, the son of John Moir, spirit merchant, and his wife Catherine Duncan. He studied at the University of Glasgow and graduated with an M.A. in 1870. He then studied divinity at the University of Glasgow and graduated with a B.D. in 1874. He became a United Presbyterian Church Minister at Cairneyhill, Fife, in 1876. He married Mary McMurchy in Paisley in 1881. She had been born in Paisley on 17 August 1851, the daughter of James McMurchy and Margaret Barr. John and Mary Moir had five children: Margaret Barr Moir (born 1883), the subject of this biography, John Moir (born 1885), Catherine Douglas Moir (born 1887), James McMurchy Moir (born 1889) and Mary Moir (born 1891). Before we give details of Margaret Barr Moir, let us give some details about other members of her family.

John Moir, Margaret's father, continued as a United Presbyterian Church Minister at Cairneyhill until his death there on 4 July 1895. His wife Mary died two years later on 10 June 1897. Margaret's brother John died on 1 June 1892 when seven years old. Catherine, born 7 January 1887, studied at the University of Glasgow and graduated with an M.A. in 1911. She married Eric Wilfred Mackay in Hillhead, Glasgow in 1921. James McMurchy, born 17 October 1889, studied at the University of Glasgow. He graduated was an M.A. in 1908 and became an Insurance Clerk living at 7 Kelvinside Terrace, West, Glasgow. He worked for the Scottish Amicable Life Assurance Society at Glasgow and Manchester. Later, he resided at 231 Wilton Street Glasgow and 14 Doune Terrace, Glasgow. He was a 2nd Lieutenant in the 1st Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) in World War I, and was killed in action on 25 September 1915 in France. Mary Moir was born on 19 May 1891.

Margaret Moir studied at the Glasgow High School for Girls. This school had been founded in 1894 in the building of Garnethill School and extended in 1898. She graduated from the school in 1902 and looked to continue her education. This was a time when higher education for girls was becoming established in Glasgow. The [1]:-
... Glasgow Association for the Higher Education of Women was founded [in 1877] with a view to offer to women opportunities of study and general culture, as well as to prepare girls for teaching and other professions. ... The Association organised a University Higher Local Certificate for Women aimed at establishing standards for women which would prove acceptable to Glasgow University. It offered teaching as near as possible to that given to men in the Arts Faculty of the University, with lectures given in University classrooms although the Association also rented an office, classroom and reading-room in St Andrew's Hall at Charing Cross, Glasgow. In 1883, the Association was incorporated under the Companies Act as Queen Margaret College, for the education exclusively of women. ... The classes were organised on University lines and the subjects for the MA degree were taught and examined although degrees were not then open to women. ... The College joined with the University of Glasgow in 1892 with the University assuming responsibility for the administration, staffing and maintenance of the College.
Moir studied at Queen Margaret College for two years, 1902-04, where she was awarded distinction in mathematics and sciences. For most of the women studying at Queen Margaret College, they were looking to be teachers. Moir, however, had higher aims and in 1904 she began studying for an M.A. at the University of Glasgow. At this time the M.A. was the standard first degree at a Scottish university and this tradition has been maintained to this day. In current times a student would, typically, study for an M.A. if they were an arts student or a B.Sc. if their interests were science. Around 1900, however, it was quite typical for a student to study first for an M.A. and then, after graduating, take specialist science subjects for a B.Sc. This is what Moir did, graduating with an M.A. (Class I) in Mathematics and Natural Philosophy in 1907 and then a B.Sc. (Dist) with special distinction in mathematics, physics and astronomy in 1909.

After these two degrees, in 1909 Moir began undertaking research supervised by Andrew Gray and supported by Carnegie Research Scholarships. She was Carnegie Research Scholar in sessions 1909-1910 and 1910-1911, then after two years she was elected to a Carnegie Research Fellowship which she held in 1911-1912, 1912-1913 and 1913-1914. During this time, she published five papers On the Influence of Temperature upon the Magnetic Properties of a Graded Series of Carbon Steels (1912), The Effect of Thermal Treatment and the Effect of Longitudinal Strain in inducing a Sensitive State in certain Magnetic Materials (1914), The magnetic properties of a graded series of chrome steels at ordinary and low temperatures (1914), Permanent magnetism of certain chrome and tungsten steels (1914), and Permanent magnetism of certain chrome and tungsten steels (1914-15). The full references for these papers are given in [4], [5], [6], [7], and [8]. In these papers she gives her affiliation as 'Carnegie Research Scholar in the University of Glasgow'. In each of these papers she acknowledges the help of Andrew Gray and James Gordon Gray; typical is the acknowledgement in [4]:-
The work described in the present paper was carried out in the Natural Philosophy Institute of the University of Glasgow. The author desires to express her thanks to Professor A Gray and to Dr J G Gray for the interest they have taken in the progress of the experiments.
Andrew Gray had studied at the University of Glasgow then became an assistant to William Thomson and Eglinton Fellow in Mathematics. After serving as Professor of Physics at the University College of North Wales, he returned to Glasgow in 1899 when he succeeded Kelvin as Professor of Natural Philosophy. He was the father of the mathematician and physicist James Gordon Gray who became a lecturer in natural philosophy at the University of Glasgow in 1904.

For extracts from some of the above papers, see THIS LINK.

In 1914 Moir submitted a thesis [9] for the degree of D.Sc. to the University of Glasgow basically consisting of the first four of her papers we listed above. The thesis begins:-
The following thesis is an account of researches which have been carried out during the past four years in the Physical Institute of Glasgow University. These researches all deal with the general subject of the magnetisation of iron and various steels, but the following special branches of the subject have been particularly investigated: (a) the influence of temperature on the magnetic properties of a graded series of carbon steels. (b) The effect of thermal treatment and the effect of longitudinal strain in inducing a sensitive state in certain magnetic materials. (c) The magnetic properties of a graded series of chrome steels at ordinary and low temperatures, and (d) The permanent magnetism of chrome steels. Under these four headings therefore, I shall describe the work.
During the five years that Moir undertook this research she had been supported by the Carnegie Trust and their annual report of 1915-16 states [12]:-
After holding a Carnegie Scholarship for two years Miss Moir was elected to a Fellowship in 1911, which has since been twice renewed. During the whole of that time she has been engaged in an investigation of the properties of magnetic materials under varying conditions of temperature and strain on which Miss Moir was engaged during the first two years of her tenure of a Fellowship was given in the Report for the quinquennial period 1908-13. On her election for a third year in recognition of the excellence of her work, she continued an investigation which had previously been begun on chrome steels, an account of which forms the subject of the above paper in the Philosophical Magazine. Afterwards she engaged in an investigation of the permanent magnetism of a graded series of tungsten  steels supplied by Sir W G Armstrong, Whitworth and Co, testing them under varying conditions with special reference to the influence of vibration and alternate heating and cooling on the permanence of the magnetism. An account of this work also has been published in the 'Philosophical Magazine'.
The Carnegie Trust's annual report of 1913-14 states [11]:-
The University of Glasgow has recently placed its imprimatur on the work of Miss Margaret B Moir by awarding her the degree of Doctor of Science for a thesis based on her investigations on the influence of temperature upon the magnetic properties of steels. Miss Moir devoted herself with unremitting zeal and conspicuous success to the study of this question during the whole period of five years for which she was a beneficiary of the Trust.
To end our discussion of her research at Glasgow, let us quote from Graeme Gooday [1]:-
The most powerful endorsement of Sklodowska Curie's work came from Silvanus Thompson in a paper he read at a meeting of the IEE in Glasgow in 1912. ... it became the standard reference work on permanent magnets. Most authors thereafter referred to Sklodowska Curie's results by citing Thompson rather than referencing her original paper. While effectively assimilating the results of Curie's work into mainstream research on magnets, Thompson's work rather ironically upstaged it. For example, in 1914 Dr Margaret Moir, research fellow at the University of Glasgow, published a piece on tungsten and chromium magnets that was primarily a response to Thompson's work, simply commenting in passing that her work refined that of "Mdme (sic) Curie" by noting that the optimum proportion of chromium for permanence depended on a magnet's length to breadth ratio (Moir, 1914-15, 385-86).
After completing her D.Sc., Moir was appointed as a teacher at Manchester High School for Girls. This independent school, founded in 1874, was the first school in the north of England to provide an academic education for girls. Moir was there when her brother was killed in action on 25 September 1915 and her address is given at that time as 19 Cresswell Grove, West Didsbury, Manchester. She is listed as a Departmental Mistress at this school in each year from 1914 to 1919 but she was granted a leave of absence [we think around 1915] for several months to work for the Admiralty as an assistant physicist at the Mining School in Portsmouth in the application of physics to submarine mining.

Alexander David Ross (1883-1966) was born and brought up in Glasgow where, in 1911, he was elected President of the Scottish Branch of the British Astronomical Association. In the following year he was elected to the combined Chair of Mathematics and Physics in the University of Western Australia. In 1929 the chair was separated into distinct Chairs of Mathematics and Physics, and Ross became Professor of Physics and Charles E Weatherburn was appointed as Professor of Mathematics. Moir was appointed as a temporary lecturer and an assistant to A D Ross at the University of Western Australia in 1925. That she should go to Perth, Australia, is not entirely surprising since many had emigrated from Scotland to Western Australia in the second half of the 19th century, in particular quite a few from Fife, including a number of members of the Moir family. There is, too, the link with Ross and the University of Glasgow.

On 13 February 1925, Moir departed from London, England, on the ship Mongolia of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company bound for Fremantle, Australia. In 1925 she was recorded as a lecturer living at 989 Hay Street, West Perth, Perth, Western Australia, Australia. Three years later, in 1928 she was still recorded as a lecturer living at 989 Hay Street, West Perth, Perth, Western Australia, Australia. In 1928 the Department of Mathematics and Physics splits into a Department of Physics and a Department of Mathematics.

An International Oceanography Congress was due to be held in Seville, Spain, in the first week of May 1929. Moir requested leave of absence to research the teaching of mathematics in the USA and Britain, and to attend the Seville conference as a representative of the University of Western Australia. Her request was granted and, in February 1929, she left Sydney, Australia, on the ship Niagara bound for Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. On 1 March 1929 she arrived in Canada, having travelled via Auckland, New Zealand, giving the information that she was travelling to London, England, via Canada and the USA. She stated that her nearest relative was her sister Mrs MacKay in Glasgow; that is her sister Catherine who married Eric Wilfred Mackay in Hillhead, Glasgow in 1921.

We have no information about where she visited in the United States as part of her research on the teaching of mathematics there, but having travelled from Vancouver to New York, she sailed on the Alaunia of the Cunard Steamship Company from New York to London, arriving on 16 April 1929. She then went to Seville, Spain, to attend the International Oceanography Congress which was held 1-7 May in the Palacio de la Plaza de Espana [16]:-
... an attendance by 129 scientists hailing from 35 countries comprising the Americas, central Europe and such distant countries as Australia, China and Japan was achieved. On the oceanographic side, the most significant contributions were in the field of physics, notably, general oceanic ow, seasonal oceanic temperature variations, plus the first world-wide-presentation of the valued Helland-Hansen method (the Temperature Anomaly Method).
Again we have no information about where she visited in Britain as part of her research on the teaching of mathematics there, but in 25 February 1930 she arrived in Fremantle, Western Australia on the ship Mongolia having sailed from London. Back at the University of Western Australia in Perth, she was now in the Department of Mathematics. The Mathematics staff consisted of a professor, Charles E Weatherburn, two lecturers R D Thompson and Margaret Moir, an Assistant lecturer A A Orton and a demonstrator W D Everson. Although we are not certain of this, we believe that Moir became Australia's first female lecturer in mathematics. In 1931 she was recorded as a lecturer living at 35 Malcolm Street, West Perth, Perth, Western Australia, Australia.

The University of Western Australia hit hard times financially during the Great Depression. The Depression began in 1929 and in 1931 a policy was made requiring Australian Federal and State governments to cut spending by 20%. In December 1931 Moir lost her position as a result of a lack of funds due to the 20% cut. In 1933 she departed from Fremantle, Australia on the Mongolia of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company which had sailed from Brisbane calling at Melbourne, Adelaide, Fremantle, where she boarded, then continuing to Colombo, Bombay, Port Sudan, Port Said and Marseilles before arriving in London on 7 April 1933.

In 1939 World War II broke out. Moir was living Godstone, Surrey, England and records of the time give her occupation as University Lecturer Retired, and ARP Warden unpaid. An ARP (Air Raid Precautions) Warden had a variety of duties such as seeing the blackout was observed, helping people to air raid shelters when an air raid was taking place, and supporting people whose property had been destroyed. She continued to live in London and at the time of her death in 1975 she was living at 37 Croham Manor Road, South Croydon.


References (show)

  1. G Gooday, Domesticating the Magnet: Secularity, Secrecy, and Permanency as Epistemic Boundaries in Marie Curie's Early Work, Spontaneous Generations: A Journal for the History and Philosophy of Science 3 (1) (2009), 68-81.
  2. J D Mackie, The University of Glasgow, 1451-1951: A Short History (Jackson Son & Co, Glasgow, 1954).
  3. Margaret Barr Moir, Personal communication from Neil Duguid (27 July 2020).
  4. M B Moir, On the Influence of Temperature upon the Magnetic Properties of a Graded Series of Carbon Steels, Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 31 (1912), 505-516.
  5. M B Moir, The Effect of Thermal Treatment and the Effect of Longitudinal Strain in inducing a Sensitive State in certain Magnetic Materials, Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 33 (1914), 243-256.
  6. M B Moir, The magnetic properties of a graded series of chrome steels at ordinary and low temperatures, The London, Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science (6) 27 (161) (1914), 830-843.
  7. M B Moir, Permanent magnetism of certain chrome and tungsten steels, The London, Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science (6) 28 (167) (1914), 738-748.
  8. M B Moir, Permanent magnetism of certain chrome and tungsten steels, Electrician 74 (1914-15), 385-386.
  9. M B Moir, The Influence of Temperature on the Magnetic Properties of a Graded Series of Carbon Steels and the Presence of a Transformation Point in the Neighbourhood of 200º C (and other papers) (D.Sc. thesis, University of Glasgow, 1914).
  10. J L Robins, Early Days in Irwin Street - The University of Western Australia, Physics Department History Issue 2 (2015).
  11. The Carnegie Trust, Annual Report for the year 1913-14 (T and A Constable, Edinburgh, 1915).
  12. The Carnegie Trust, Annual Report. Volumes 15-20 (T and A Constable, Edinburgh, 1917).
  13. E Tuck, Review: Counting Australia in the People, Organisations and Institutions of Australian Mathematics, by G Cohen, Australian Mathematical Society Gazette 34 (1) (2007), 44-47.
  14. Various information from ancestry.co.uk.
    https://www.ancestry.co.uk
  15. Various information from ScotlandsPeople.
    https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
  16. E Wulff and J Pérez-Rubín, The First International Oceanography Congress held in Spain (Seville, 1929), in Christiane Groeben, Places, People, Tools: Oceanography in the Mediterranean and Beyond, Proceedings of the Eighth International Congress for the History of Oceanography IV (Giannini Editore, 2013)

Additional Resources (show)

Other pages about Margaret Barr Moir:

  1. Margaret Barr Moir's papers

Cross-references (show)


Written by J J O'Connor and E F Robertson
Last Update March 2021