Margaret Jane Helen Arnott Wadsworth

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1 May 1942
Ashwood, Woking, Surrey, England
12 July 1997
Lambeth, London, England

Jane Wadsworth (née Arnott) was a statistician who applied her skills to data coming from a wide range of topics relating to medical research. She devoted the latter part of her life to combatting the AIDS epidemic by constructing and carrying out surveys to establish the pattern of HIV infection in Britain.


Jane Wadsworth was the daughter of James Arnott and Barbara Edwards; she was the eldest of their four children. Given the name Margaret Jane Helen Arnott, she chose to be known as Jane rather than Margaret and, after she married, she took her husband's name of Wadsworth. We will refer to her as Jane up until the time she married. James Arnott, born in Sevenoaks, Kent, on 4 September 1914, became a medical doctor with an M.B. B.Ch. degree and, in 1939, was a Hospital House Physician in St Thomas's Hospital, London. He was called up for military service when World War II broke out in 1939. When his daughter Jane was born in 1942, he was serving as a Flying Officer in the Middle East Forces. The war ended in 1945 and James Arnott was demobbed and set up a medical practice in Sevenoaks, Kent. At that time Jane, of course, moved to Sevenoaks where she was brought up.

Jane was educated at West Heath Girls' School just outside Sevenoaks. This independent boarding school had started in London in 1865 but, in 1932, had moved into the 18th-century Ashgrove House near Sevenoaks. While at this school she excelled in mathematics but also had many hobbies; she loved music, riding horses and took up sailing. After graduating from West Heath Girls' School, she matriculated at the University of St Andrews, in Scotland, in 1961. She studied mathematics taking the First Year Mathematics class with around 100 students. In the examinations she was ranked fifth. During her second academic year, 1962-63 she again performed exceptionally well in the Second Year Mathematics course and was ranked even closer to the top place. She graduated with a B.Sc. (Pure Science) from the University of St Andrews on 26 June 1964 and moved to London to take up a position as a computer programmer. Mary Boulton writes [4]:-
These formative experiences endowed her with a graciousness and social ease that were her hallmark, but also with a reserve which some found intimidating.
While working as a computer programmer, Jane met Michael E J Wadsworth who was a few months older than she was and had been born in Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. They were married in late summer 1966 in Tonbridge, Kent and then moved to Edinburgh. While in Edinburgh their first child Emma Wadsworth was born and Jane Wadsworth became a full-time mother and house keeper [4]:-
She never quite gave up paid employment while her children were young, and when the family returned to London she worked part-time at the Institute for Social Studies in Medical Care, beginning a lasting family connection with the social scientist Ann Cartwright. When Wadsworth's second child, Harry, went to school, she did an MSc in Medical Statistics at the London School of Hygiene ...
In 1976 Wadsworth was elected a Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society and, in the same year, she was appointed as a Computer Programmer in the Computing Unit for Medical Sciences, St Bartholomew's Hospital, West Smithfield, London [4]:-
... she had a thorough knowledge of statistical techniques and was skilled in applying these across a wide range of research projects. Her real interest was in helping younger colleagues and clinicians who would arrive in her office with an armful of data, thinking that somewhere in it there might be the answer to a question that needed asking.
By 1977 she had worked with her colleagues on a number of projects and was a joint author on the following papers submitted for publication in that year and being published in 1978: Studies of cardioselectivity and partial agonist activity in β-adrenoceptor blockade comparing effects on heart rate and peak expiratory flow rate during exercise; Cardiovascular responses to mianserin hydrochloride: a comparison with tricyclic antidepressant drugs; Some clinical pharmacological studies with terfenadine, a new antihistamine drug; and Plasma protein binding interaction between phenytoin and valproic acid in vitro.

She was a co-author on six articles published in 1978, five published in 1979 and two published in 1980. To illustrate her work let us quote from the Abstract of two of these papers. The Abstract of Primary suture of the perineal wound following rectal excision for inflammatory bowel disease (accepted 17 March 1978) begins [9]:-
Delay in healing of the perineal wound is a major cause of disability in patients after excision of the rectum. The outcome of primary suture in 76 patients treated at St Mark's Hospital between 1967 and 1976 was correlated with a number of factors describing the patients, their preparation for surgery and details of surgical technique and management.
Here is the Abstract of the paper Effect of treatment of malignant disease on growth in children (received 8 August 1979) [6]:-
The growth of 95 children with malignant disease was studied over a 3- or 4-year period, and compared with the growth of normal children matched for age and sex by calculation of the standard deviation score. The mean standard deviation score of the children with leukaemia fell in the first year of treatment, and thereafter showed little change, remaining below the normal. This effect was related to cranial and craniospinal irradiation, but not to age or duration of chemotherapy. The loss in eventual height attained was small and does not suggest any long-term interference with growth hormone production.
In 1979 Wadsworth was appointed as a Scientific Officer in the Department of Medical Physics at St Bartholomew's Hospital. She also collaborated with Ioanna Burnell who worked at the University of Bristol and in 1981 they produced a joint Interim Report Children in One-parent Families: The Effects on Children of Changing Family Status at Birth to Age Five for the Child Health Research Unit, Department of Child Health, University of Bristol. By 1982 she was publishing papers giving her address as Child Health and Education Study, Department of Child Health, University of Bristol. We note that there is a 1982 paper with Jane Wadsworth M.Sc. as a joint author which gives her address as Departments of Surgery and Medicine and the Biostatistics Laboratory, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Cornell University Medical College, New York, N. Y. We are unsure if this is a misprint; some of the joint authors have the New York address, others have St Mark's Hospital for Diseases of the Rectum and Colon, London, England. What is clear from all the papers that Wadsworth was writing is that she was collaborating with people in many different institutions.

This first paper we have found with Wadsworth as the first author is Family Type and Accidents in Preschool Children (1983) which has the following Abstract [14]:-
Children living in single-parent families or stepfamilies were found to be more likely to suffer accidental injuries in their first five years of life than children living with two natural parents. Frequent household moves, low maternal age, and perceived poor behaviour in the child were all more strongly associated with overall accident rates than family type, and these disadvantages were more common in atypical families. Family type appeared to be the most important influence on hospital admission after accidents. Overall, there was a close similarity in accident rates between children of single-parent families and stepfamilies, and both groups were more at risk than children living with both natural parents.
From 1983, in addition to her research positions, Wadsworth was a Lecturer in Medical Statistics at St Mary's Hospital Medical School. She was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1989 and continued in this role until her death in 1997 [4]:-
She had a gift for communicating with doctors and for reconstructing their initial efforts into realistic research projects. She was enormously generous to those who wanted to collaborate with her but firmly showed the door to those who tried to treat her like a handmaiden. She hated self-promotion in others and would not tolerate it in herself. In the increasingly competitive academic world, however, this meant that her contribution, though widely appreciated by her colleagues, had not yet led to further promotion.
It was Wadsworth's work on Sexual Behaviour in Britain, prompted by AIDS and HIV, for which she is best known today. What later became known as AIDS was first identified in 1981 and its cause, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), became officially recognised in 1986 [4]:-
With the onset of the Aids epidemic, she became involved in early work to establish the pattern of HIV infection in Britain and to describe its likely spread. This led to the first ever attempt in the UK to conduct a survey about sexual behaviour using a random sample of the population. This was uncharted territory for sex research. Jane Wadsworth was excited by the possibilities it opened up and for the first time took a leading role in initiating her own research programme. Her personal life was more difficult over this period, however, and the end of the 1980s saw the painful break-up of her marriage.
She initiated a pilot study in 1987 and, working with a range of collaborators, she published A pilot study of sexual lifestyle in a random sample of the population of Great Britain in 1989. The Abstract of the paper begins as follows [7]:-
Rates of sexual-partner change and patterns of high-risk behaviour are important determinants of the spread of HIV. We carried out a survey to assess the feasibility of studying sexual lifestyle in a random sample of the British population, aged 16-64 years, in November 1987.

Two thousand and seventy-seven households were selected using a multi-stage probability sampling procedure. Seven hundred and eighty-five adults participated in a structured interview. The schedule included demographic details, attitudes to AIDS, numbers of sexual partners in different time periods, history of homosexuality and contact with prostitutes.
The Abstract ends with the comment [7]:-
Further work is necessary to improve the response rate and questionnaire design.
Funding for a major survey in Britain hit difficulties after government refused to support such an investigation. The Times reported on 10 September 1989 (see [11]):-
Thatcher halts survey on sex. The prime minister has vetoed plans for the biggest-ever official investigation of Britain's sexual habits. She believes the £750 000 Government survey would invade the privacy of the 20 000 people due to be questioned. The decision has angered medical researchers, who say the inquiry would have produced the most comprehensive picture of sexual activity yet compiled and provided valuable information for the battle against AIDS. Interviews should have started last April but the project, enthusiastically supported by Government medical officers, was postponed by the Department of Health after resistance from 10 Downing Street. Thatcher has now rejected the project, which would have involved adults answering detailed and explicit questions about their sex lives.
Four weeks later the Wellcome Trust agreed to fund the project. Anne M Johnson, Jane Wadsworth, Kaye Wellings, Julia Field and Sally Bradshaw undertook the design of a survey. Donald Mosher writes that the researchers defined their [10]:-
... measurement objectives to include components of sexual history, the prevalence and distribution of sexual orientations, the frequency and extent of sexual practices, attitudes and knowledge of health risks and relationship with behaviour, demographic characteristics of those at greatest risk of HIV, and changes in sexual lifestyles across generations.
The BBC television programme Horizon made a film about the survey in 1992 when they interviewed the researchers [4]:-
Jane Wadsworth became a media star, recognised the next day by her greengrocer and the ticket collector at her tube station. She was delighted by such encounters but never took her fleeting fame too seriously.
The full survey National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles was published in 1994 and Donald Mosher writes [10]:-
Because of its careful construction, implementation, and analysis, the British 1990 National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles represents the state of the art in national survey research on sexual behaviour.
Mary Boulton writes [4]:-
This brought invitations for Jane Wadsworth to lecture all over the world; these she enjoyed to the full, travelling often with her new partner, John McEwan. She had an immense enthusiasm for life and died too young, aged 55.
Wadsworth has been honoured with the Jane Wadsworth clinic in the Jefferiss wing of St Mary's Hospital, Praed Street, London being named for her.

References (show)

  1. A Barrett, Jane Wadsworth, in Medical statistician and sexual health research, Women At Imperial College; Past, Present And Future (World Scientific, 2017), 189-190.
  2. P Besnard, Review: Sexual Behaviour in Britain. The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, by Kaye Wellings, Julia Field, Anne M Johnson, Jane Wadsworth and Sally Bradshaw, Population (French Edition) 52 (6)(1997), 1553-1554.
  3. P Besnard, Review: Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, by Anne M Johnson, Jane Wadsworth, Kaye Wellings, Julia Field and Sally Bradshaw, Population (French Edition) 52 (6)(1997), 1553-1554.
  4. M Bolton, Obituary: Jane Wadsworth, The Independent (Friday 18 July, 1997).
  5. N Britten and J Wadsworth, Long Term Respiratory Sequelae Of Whooping Cough In A Nationally Representative Sample, British Medical Journal (Clinical Research Edition) 292 (6518) (1986), 441-444.
  6. N K Griffin and J Wadsworth, Effect of treatment of malignant disease on growth in children, Archives of Disease in Childhood 55 (1980), 600-603.
  7. A M Johnson, J Wadsworth, P Elliott, L Prior, P Wallace, S Blower, N L Webb, G I Heald, D L Miller, M W Adler and R M Anderson, A pilot study of sexual lifestyle in a random sample of the population of Great Britain, Aids 3 (3) (1989), 135-142.
  8. H Knolle, J Wadsworth and A M Johnson, Letter to the Editors, Journal of the Royal Statistical Society. Series A (Statistics in Society) 160 (2) (1997), 359-361.
  9. C G Marks, J K Ritchie, I P Todd and J Wadsworth, Primary suture of the perineal wound following rectal excision for inflammatory bowel disease, The British Journal of Surgery 65 (8) (1978), 560-564.
  10. D L Mosher, Review: Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, by Anne M Johnson, Jane Wadsworth, Kay Wellings and Julia Field, The Journal of Sex Research 31 (4) (1994), 309-312.
  11. C Overy, L A Reynolds and E M Tansey(eds.), History of the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, Wellcome Witnesses to Twentieth Century Medicine 41 (Queen Mary, University of London, London, 2011).
  12. B Taylor, J Wadsworth, J Golding and N Butler, Breast Feeding, Eczema, Asthma, and Hayfever, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 37 (2) (1983), 95-99.
  13. The Arnott family,
  14. J Wadsworth, I Burnell, B Taylor and N Butler, Family Type and Accidents in Preschool Children, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 37 (2) (1983), 100-104.
  15. K Wellings and J Wadsworth, Family influences on teenage fertility, in S McRae (ed.), Changing Britain: Families and Households in the 1990 (Oxford University Press, 1999), 319-333.

Cross-references (show)

Written by J J O'Connor and E F Robertson
Last Update September 2023