Hilda Mary Woods

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Hilda Mary Woods
Nationality British
Institutions MRC Biostatistics Unit, Cambridge
Alma mater Aberdeen University

Hilda Mary Woods (1892 – 1971) MBE, was a British statistician who began work in 1916 at the Medical Research Council's Statistical Research Unit with Major Greenwood ("Major" being his forename, not a military rank).[1] Subsequently, she would deputize for him in his Directorship of the Unit, where in 1931 Woods and her co-author William Russell published an early textbook on medical statistics (Introduction to Medical Statistics, reprinted in 1936). Their practical text was based on lectures given at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), as referenced in Hill's 1937 Lancet articles and subsequent seminal text, The Principles of Medical Statistics.

Woods was appointed MBE for the statistical work she did in Ceylon where her newlywed husband died from septicaemia barely two months after their marriage. From Ceylon, Woods travelled to Africa, where, upon the death of her sister-in-law and later of her brother, she assumed the sole guardianship of her niece and adopted daughter, Rosemary Gear.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Hilda Mary Woods was born in 1892 in Doddershall, Quainton, Buckinghamshire, England, the daughter of William Ashburnham Woods, a farmer, and Mary Ann Woods (née Markham).[2] She was the eldest daughter in a family of five surviving children: three boys and two girls.[2]

Her early education was provided by a governess at home and included learning to play the piano. At age 12 she was sent to the private Northampton High School as a boarder. There she obtained her Junior Oxford and Cambridge Certificate and several music certificates.

In June 1916, she had wandered along Whitehall in search of work and willing to accept anything. Finally she came to a door in Whitehall Gardens marked Ministry of Munitions and filled in a form and was interviewed.[1] She was asked: "Are you any good at mathematics? There is a doctor in the Welfare Section who wants an educated person to travel round and get statistics from factories. You look too young tho’. What age are you?" Woods promptly added three years to her age and the appointment was made.


The doctor wearing the uniform of a captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps who hired Hilda Woods was Major Greenwood, whose role in the development of medical statistics and epidemiology during the first half of the 20th century is well documented. From 1916 until 1933, Hilda Woods worked alongside Greenwood.

Woods was initially employed until the end of 1919 to enable Greenwood and Woods (1919) to co-author ‘A report on the incidence of industrial accidents upon individuals with special reference to multiple accidents’, which was highly cited.[1]

In February 1928, Greenwood and Woods transferred to the Division of Epidemiology and Vital Statistics at the LSHTM. Woods was appointed as Assistant Lecturer on the permanent staff of the University of London, the first female lecturer at the LSHTM. As well as giving lectures on epidemiology and vital statistics to medical postgraduates taking the Diploma in Public Health course, she had responsibility for the practical classes.

While at the LSHTM, Hilda Woods published papers on respiratory disease (Woods, 1927, 1928a), scarlet fever and diphtheria (Woods, 1928b), as well as a methodological paper (Woods, 1929) that compared analytic and graphical methods for interpolation in life tables. In Greenwood's Divisional report for 1933, Woods' last year at the LSHTM, he described Dr. Hilda M Woods’“Epidemiological Study of Scarlet Fever in England and Wales since 1900”, as the Division’s most important paper.

Hilda Woods's tenure at the LSHTM came to an end in 1933 following her engagement to Roger Fowke, a prominent businessman in Ceylon, where she was married. Having lost her fiancé 18 years earlier, Hilda Woods suffered yet another tragic loss when her husband, aged 53 years, died suddenly, from septicaemia, in February 1934 two months into their marriage.

Many would have returned home in despair, but Woods immersed herself in important medical and social services of various kinds in Ceylon: as a member of the 1934 Ceylon Government Commission to study factory conditions and to advise on a new Factory Act. Also in 1934 she helped to compile and draft, as part of the Ceylon* Government Commission on Malaria, a statistical report on the epidemic. Both appointments led to reports tabled in the British and Ceylon Parliaments. Hilda Fowke also organized temporary hospitals during the height of the malaria epidemic and later organized a new department for studying disease prevalences in Ceylon.


  • Woods and Russell, An Introduction to Medical Statistics


  1. ^ a b c d Farewell, Vern; Johnson, Tony; Gear, Rosemary (1 July 2012). "Hilda Mary Woods MBE, DSc, LRAM, FSS (1892-1971): reflections on a Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society". Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series A (Statistics in Society). 175 (3): 799–811. doi:10.1111/j.1467-985X.2011.01018.x. 
  2. ^ a b The James Lind Library, accessed 27 October 2013