Nora Lilian Alcock

Other names: 
Maiden name: Scott; AKA Lilian Alcock, Nora Lilian Lepard Alcock
Born 18 August 1874, died 31 March 1972

Daughter of Edgeworth Leonora Hill, and Sir John Scott, barrister and judicial adviser to the Khedive of Egypt. Lilian Scott married Nathaniel Alcock in 1905. In 1912, he was appointed professor of physiology at McGill University, Montreal, where he worked on radiation. He died of leukaemia in 1913, leaving her with four children.

Returning to London, she joined the Plant Pathology Laboratory of the Ministry of Agriculture at Kew, where she acquired expertise in mycology, studying with the Director, (later Sir) John Fryer, John Ramsbottom and Professor Dame Helen Gwynne-Vaughan. The latter two became her lifelong friends.

Among British pioneers in plant pathology, Lilian Alcock was an early worker on seed pathology. A Fellow of the Linnaean Society (1922), in 1924 she moved to Edinburgh, taking up the new post of plant pathologist with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries in Scotland, based at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh. She was the first woman appointed to such a high-level job, one of the aims of which was to increase the level of food production through healthy seeds.

Lilian Alcock built up a reputation for providing a quick and practical advisory service in plant pathology. She herself researched fungal diseases, and was awarded the MBE in 1935. She retired in 1937.

During the Second World War, she taught botany to prisoners of war. She was a member of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs and the Edinburgh Soroptimists.

The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women
Based on an entry by Agnes Walker