Margaret Todd (doctor)

Margaret Georgina Todd (23 April 1859 – 3 September 1918)[1] was a Scottish doctor and writer. She coined the term isotope in 1913 in a suggestion to chemist Frederick Soddy.

Margaret Georgina Todd
Photograph of Dr Margaret Todd, head shot
Dr Margaret Todd
Born(1859-04-23)23 April 1859
Died3 September 1918(1918-09-03) (aged 59)
EducationEdinburgh School of Medicine for Women
Known forproposing the term isotope

Early life and educationEdit

Todd was born in Kilrenny, Fife, Scotland, the daughter of James Cameron Todd and Jeannie McBain of Glasgow.[2] She was educated in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Berlin.[3]

Her brother was James Cameron Todd a British Anglican canon and schoolmaster, who founded Michaelhouse school in South Africa.[4]

A Glaswegian schoolteacher[citation needed], in 1886, Todd became one of the first students at the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women after hearing that the Scottish Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons had opened their exams to women. She took eight years to complete the four-year course because, using the pseudonym Graham Travers, during her studies she wrote a novel, Mona Maclean, Medical Student.[5]

This was described by Punch magazine as "a novel with a purpose – no recommendation for a novel, more especially when the purpose selected is that of demonstrating the indispensability of women-doctors". After graduating in 1894, she took her MD in Brussels.


She was appointed Assistant Medical Officer at Edinburgh Hospital and Dispensary for Women and Children but retired after five years.[6]

Her first book was well received. She later published Fellow Travellers and Kirsty O' The Mill Toun in 1896, followed by Windyhaugh in 1898, always using her male pen name, although her real identity was known by then and mentioned in reviews of her books.[5] By 1906, even her publishers added "Margaret Todd, M.D." in parentheses after her pseudonym. In addition to six novels, she wrote short stories for magazines.


Todd was a family friend of chemist Frederick Soddy, then a lecturer at the University of Glasgow. In 1913, Soddy explained to her the research on radioactivity for which he won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1921. He had shown that some radioactive elements have more than one atomic mass, although the chemical properties are identical, so that atoms of different masses occupy the same place in the periodic table. Todd suggested that such atoms be named isotopes, Greek for at the same place.[7][8] This term was accepted and used by Soddy, and has become standard scientific nomenclature.

Personal lifeEdit

Todd is assumed to have been in a romantic relationship with Dr Sophia Jex-Blake, founder of Todd's university and place of employment.[9] On Jex-Blake's retirement in 1899, they moved to Windydene, Mark Cross, where Todd wrote The Way of Escape (1902) and Growth (1906). After Jex-Blake's death, she wrote The Life of Dr Sophia Jex-Blake (1918) under her own name, describing the fight of women in the 19th century to enter the medical profession. The Times described it as "almost too laboriously minute for the general reader"[1] but it received praise in other publications.[10]

Death and legacyEdit

Todd died aged 59, three months after her book on Jex-Blake was published.[9]

According to one source,[11] she died by suicide; her Times obituary states only that she died in a nursing home in London. After her death, a scholarship was created in her name at the LSMW. She left £3,000 in her will (equivalent to £295,000 in 2021) to be used to promote the advancement of women in medicine.[12]

Selected worksEdit

  • Graham Travers. Mona Maclean, Medical Student (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1892).
  • Fellow Travellers[13] (1896)
  • Kirsty O' The Mill Toun (1896)
  • Margaret Georgina Todd, Graham Travers (1899). Windyhaugh. D. Appleton and company. (1899)
  • The Way of Escape[14] (1902)
  • Growth (1906)[15]
  • The Life of Sophia Jex-Blake (1918)[16]


  1. ^ a b "Dr. Margaret Todd". The Times. London, England. 5 September 1918. p. 9.
  2. ^ Scotland, Select Births and Baptisms, 1564-1950
  3. ^ "Death of Dr. Margaret Todd". Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald. 14 September 1918. Retrieved 5 August 2017.
  4. ^ "1871 Scotland Census". Retrieved 30 June 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  5. ^ a b "New Books: Windyhaugh. By Graham Travers". Dundee Courier. 16 November 1898. Retrieved 5 August 2017.
  6. ^ "The late Dr. Maragret Todd" (PDF). The British Medical Journal. 2 (3011): 299. 14 September 1918. doi:10.1136/bmj.2.3011.298-a. S2CID 220153393.
  7. ^ Nagel, Miriam C. (1982). "Frederick Soddy: From Alchemy to Isotopes". Journal of Chemical Education. 59 (9): 739–740. Bibcode:1982JChEd..59..739N. doi:10.1021/ed059p739.
  8. ^ Scerri, Eric R. The Periodic Table (Oxford University Press 2007), chap.6, note 44 (p.312) citing Alexander Fleck, described as a former student of Soddy's
  9. ^ a b Swenson, Kristine (1999). "Intimate sympathy and self-effacement: writing the life of Sophia Jex-Blake". A/B: Auto/Biography Studies. 14:2 (2): 222–240. doi:10.1080/08989575.1999.10815220.
  10. ^ "The Life of Sophia Jex-Blake". The Scotsman. 10 June 1918. Retrieved 5 August 2017.
  11. ^ L. Ewan, Elizabeth (2006). The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. pp. 184.
  12. ^ "Bequests of Dr. Margaret Todd". Yorkshire Evening Post. 2 December 1918. Retrieved 5 August 2017.
  13. ^ Todd, Margaret Georgina (29 November 1896). "Fellow travellers". D. Appleton and Company – via Hathi Trust.
  14. ^ Travers, Graham (29 November 1902). "The way of escape; a novel by Graham Travers (Margaret Todd)". D. Appleton and Company – via Hathi Trust.
  15. ^ "Review of Growth, A Novel by Travers Graham (Margaret Todd, M.D.)". The Lancet. 1, part 1: 297–298. 2 February 1907. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(01)51918-2.
  16. ^ "Review of The Life of Sophia Jex-Blake by Margaret Todd". The Athenaeum (4632): 356–358. August 1918.


  • Wanamaker, John (1902). "Book News Biographies". Book News. Vol. 20 (Public domain ed.). John Wanamaker. - brief biographical information for Margaret Todd

Further readingEdit

  • Schwartz, Seymour I (2018). From medicine to manuscript: doctors with a literary legacy. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books.

External linksEdit