Dorothea Waley Singer

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Dorothea Waley Singer, b. Cohen (1882–1964) was a historian of science, and the first president of the British Society for the History of Science.


Dorothea Waley Cohen was born on 17 December 1882. Her father was Nathaniel Louis Cohen, a stock broker, and her mother was Julia M. Waley. She studied arts at Queen's College, London, before marrying Charles Singer in 1910. Singer found work as a hospital pathologist, and the couple adopted two children Andrea Waley Singer and Nancy Waley Singer. Nancy would go on to marry Edgar Ashworth Underwood, the director of the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine.[1]

The Singers resided in London until 1914, when they moved to Oxford as Charles started to work with Sir William Osler on the history of medicine. Singer's first papers, written between 1913 and 1927, were co-authored with her husband, primarily on the plague. In parallel she started her own line of research specializing in Medieval and Early Modern palaeography, initially an ambitious project to identify and classify all manuscripts dealing with science and medicine in the British Isles; she had found over 30,000 by the end of 1918.[2]

The first volume of Singer's catalogue of alchemical manuscripts was published in 1924 by Union Académique Internationale, focussing on the Greek manuscripts. A further three volumes were published in the years up to 1931, dealing with Latin and vernacular manuscripts. The full calendar of manuscripts is now stored in the British Library as the Singer Collection. Together with her husband, she was co-awarded the George Sarton Medal in 1956.[1]


  1. ^ a b McConnell, Anita (2004). "Singer [née Cohen], Dorothea Waley (1882–1964), historian of medicine and philanthropist". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/74093. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ E. Ashworth Underwood (Jun 1965). "Obituary: Dorothea Waley Singer (1882-1964)". The British Journal for the History of Science. 2 (3): 260–262. JSTOR 4024942.