Nora Barlow

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Emma Nora Barlow, Lady Barlow (née Darwin; 22 December 1885 – 29 May 1989), was the granddaughter of the British naturalist Charles Darwin. Barlow began her academic career studying botany at Cambridge under Frederick Blackman, and continued her studies in the budding field of genetics under William Bateson from 1904-1906. Her primary research focus when working with Bateson was the phenomenon of herostylism within the primrose family. In later life she was one of the first Darwinian scholars, and founder of the Darwin Industry of scholarly research into her grandfather's life and discoveries.[1] [2] [3] She lived to 103.


Early life[edit]

Nora, as she was known, was the daughter of the civil engineer Sir Horace Darwin and his wife The Hon. Lady Ida Darwin (née Farrer), daughter of Thomas Farrer, 1st Baron Farrer. Her elder brother Erasmus was killed during the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915;[4] She also had a sister, Ruth Darwin.

She worked as a research assistant at the John Innes Institute from 1905, and studied plant genetics under William Bateson at Cambridge in 1906,[5] then the centre for what was pioneering genetics research, and was an active member of the Cambridge University Genetics Society. Nora continued her study in genetics long past her family life, visiting the John Innes Institute every summer to observe the plants that had grown there. She was among the founders of the Genetical Society (created in 1919), and regularly attended their meetings. Throughout her career, she officially published two genetics papers on her study of the primrose flower in 1913[6] and 1923[7] which drew on her Grandfather's The Different Forms of Flowers on Plants of the Same Species.

Marriage and motherhood[edit]

In 1911 she married Alan Barlow, son of the Royal Physician Sir Thomas Barlow.[8] They had six children:

Additionally, she temporarily cared for her cousin Gwen Raverat's daughters Elisabeth and Sophie during Gwen's breakdown after the death of her husband Jacques Raverat.[9] She became Lady Barlow after her husband was knighted in 1938.

She was widowed in 1968. Cambridge University Library has a painting of her in old age by her daughter-in-law Yvonne Barlow[10]

Darwin's editor[edit]

Her first book as editor was a new edition of The Voyage of the Beagle (1933).

She published an unexpurgated version of The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, which had previously had personal and religious material removed by his son, Francis. She also edited several collections of letters and notes, including correspondence between Darwin and John Stevens Henslow, his mentor.


The Columbine flower cultivar Aquilegia "Nora Barlow" is named after Barlow.

Aquilegia "Nora Barlow"

In fiction[edit]

Nora Barlow appears as a supporting character in Scott Westerfeld's 2009 young adult steampunk novel Leviathan., Behemoth, and Goliath. In Westerfeld's alternate history series, Barlow is reimagined as a prominent genetic engineer and diplomat.


  • 1933. Charles Darwin's Diary of the Voyage of HMS Beagle, editor.
  • 1946. Charles Darwin and the Voyage of the Beagle, editor. (A collection of letters and notebooks from the voyage.)
  • 1958. The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, 1809–1882, editor.
  • 1963. Darwin's Ornithological Notes, editor. (Barlow also wrote the Introduction, Notes, and Appendix.)
  • 1967. Darwin and Henslow: The Growth of an Idea. Letters, 1831–1860, editor.


  1. ^ Barlow, Emma Nora (Darwin) (1885-1989) in Marilyn Ogilvie Joyce Harvey (Eds) The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science:Pioneering Lives From Ancient Times to the Mid-20th Century, Volume 1
  2. ^ Louis M. Smith Nora Barlow - a Modern Cambridge Victorian and 'the Many Lives of Modern Woman'. Advancing Women in Leadership › No. 19, October 2005
  3. ^ Louis M. Smith Nora Barlow: A Tale of a Darwin Granddaughter. Vitae Scholasticae, Vol. 29, No. 2
  4. ^,%20ERASMUS
  5. ^ Marsha L. Richmond. Opportunities for women in early genetics. Nature Reviews Genetics 8, 897-902 (November 2007). See box with photo at
  6. ^ Barlow, N. (1913) Preliminary note on heterostylism in Oxalis and Lythrum (with 1 text-figure). Journal of Genetics Vol. 3 pp 53–66 [1]
  7. ^ Barlow, N. (1923) Inheritance of the Three Forms in Trimorphic Species Journal of Genetics Vol. 3 pp 133-146
  8. ^ Burke's Baronatage Barlow of Wimpole Street
  9. ^
  10. ^

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