Mabel Purefoy FITZGERALD (1872–1973)


12 Crick Road, Oxford

Mabel Purefoy Fitzgerald

Mabel Purefoy FitzGerald was a scion of the Purefoy family of Shalstone Manor, Buckinghamshire. She was born to Richard Purefoy FitzGerald and his wife Henrietta Mary and grew up at Preston Candover in Hampshire. When her parents died she moved to Oxford and took up residence at 12 Crick Road with her four older sisters in 1896. This remained her home until her death in 1973.

She had been home educated but soon on arrival in Oxford resolved to pursue the study of medical science. She attended Oxford University Medical School and Physiology Honours School 1898–1907, the first woman to do so, albeit unofficially with the support of some enlightened scientists, as women were not admitted to read medicine at that time. Her research in physiology was mentored by John Scott Haldane and involved testing respiration on his children and others from the Dragon School and on her own sisters. She also worked in the newly established clinical pathology laboratory at the Radcliffe Infirmary 1905–1907. Her researches took her to New York in 1908 when she was recommended for a Rockefeller fellowship by Sir William Osler, Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford, and to Toronto where she discovered the origin of hydrochloric acid in the stomach.

12 Crick Road


She was invited by Haldane to join in his famous expedition to Pike’s Peak in Colorado in 1911. Her assigned role was to travel alone, sometimes by mule, to test high altitude acclimatization in the local population. She is especially acclaimed for this intrepid pioneering work and her findings are still accepted as standard.


Left: 12 Crick Road, Mabel's home for over 75 years

In 1915 she was invited by Edinburgh Royal Infirmary to stand in for a clinical pathologist on war service and remained there teaching bacteriology until 1937. At this point she retired to Crick Road to look after her sisters and did no more research. Her contribution was virtually forgotten until the centenary celebrations for J. S. Haldane in 1960 revived awareness of her contribution.

It is remarkable that, although she had forged ahead as a physiologist and pathologist in research and expertise and was highly esteemed for her work among contemporary scientists, she had never been awarded a degree or formal recognition by any university or learned body, in spite of repeated applications to them. In 1972 at the age of 100 she was finally made a member of the Physiological Society and awarded an Honorary MA by Oxford. The scientist Sir Roger Elliott, her neighbour in Crick Road, was instrumental in obtaining this late recognition for her. She died a year later and was buried at Shalstone.


  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article by R. W. Torrance
  • Several scientific websites including that of The Royal Society which has a detailed account of her arduous work in Colorado
  • Suffer and Survive (biography of J. S. Haldane) by Martin Goodman.

The plaque was unveiled at 12 Crick Road on 14 October 2022 by Martha Tissot van Patot, physiologist and Professor Emerita of Colorado University Medical School, and author of a forthcoming biography of Mabel. Ros Elliott offered some childhood memories of her elderly neighbour (read out by her son, Henry Anderson-Elliott). Among those attending the ceremony were the Lord Mayor of Oxford (Cllr James Fry), Professor Sir Peter Ratcliffe, Professor David Paterson and other scientists, Geoffrey Purefoy and members of Norham Manor Residents’ Association.

Photographs taken at the ceremony:

Speeches made at the ceremony (PDF):

Mabel FitzGerald's 100th birthday cake Mabel Purefoy FitzGerald's 100th birthday cake, with “Mabel” spelt “Mable”:
Photography by courtesy of Geoffrey Purefoy


Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board


Intrepid researcher into
high altitude adaptation
Clinical Pathologist

Lived here / 1897–1973

dept. physiology, anatomy & genetics,
university of oxford


© Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board


Email: oxfordshireblueplaques@gmail.com