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Biographical entry Cookson, Isabel Clifton (1893 - 1973)

25 December 1893
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
1 July 1973
Hawthorn, Victoria, Australia


Isabel Cookson was Research Fellow in Botany, University of Melbourne 1952-1959. She was world renowned for her research which included fossil plant studies. Cookson created many international collaborations and associations which lead to significant discoveries. Isabel Cookson published over 80 papers and produced many botanical illustrations. The Cooksonia plant genus and the Isabel Cookson Award (Botanical Society of America) have been named in her honour.


After completing her studies at Hambledon and Methodist Ladies Colleges, Cookson went to Melbourne University. In 1916 she graduated with a BSc majoring in botany and zoology. Cookson went on to tutor, then lecture in botany at the University. She was appointed Research Fellow in 1952 and held this position up until her death in 1973. In 1926 Isabel Cookson made the first of many study/ research trips to the University of Manchester. It was during one of these visits that she developed a keen interest in fossil plants. Cookson and Manchester University's Prof. W. H. Lang developed a long term and very productive partnership. Their collaboration resulted in many key publications. Prof. W. H. Lang even named a plant genus (Cooksonia) in her honour.

Cookson later returned to Australia where she pioneered palynology studies in Australia. Her work on fossil-plant remains lead to her appointment as head of the University's Pollen Research Unit (1949) and to obtain a Doctorate of Science. Her 58 years of research produced great insight into the history and evolution of Australia's flora and 85 publications - 30 of which were written after she had officially retired. Her reputation as an outstanding botanist was world wide. The Botanical Society of America commemorate her achievements by awarding the Isabel Cookson Award to the best paper on palaeobotany presented at their annual meeting.


Education - Bachelor of Science (BSc) completed at the University of Melbourne
1916 - 1917
Career position - Government research scholarship received to study the flora of the Northern Territory
1916 - 1926
Career position - Botany Tutor at Newman College, University of Melbourne
1916 - 1929
Career position - Demonstrator in Botany at the University of Melbourne
1917 - 1958
Career position - Member of the Royal Society of Victoria
1925 - 1926
Career position - Research and studies at the Imperial College of Science and Technology, London
1926 - 1927
Career position - Research work at the University of Manchester, UK
Career position - Demonstrator (part-time) in Zoology at the University of Melbourne
1929 - 1930
Career position - Research work at the University of Manchester
1930 - 1951
Career position - Lecturer in Botany at the University of Melbourne
Education - Doctor of Science (DSc) received from the University of Melbourne
Career position - Head of the Pollen Research Unit at the University of Melbourne
Career position - Keynote speaker at the opening of the Birbal Sahni Institue of Paelaeobotany in Lucknow, India
1948 - 1949
Career position - Leverhulme Researcher at the University of Manchester
Career position - Research Fellow in the School of Botany at the University of Melbourne
1952 - 1963
Career position - Senior Lecturer in Botany at the University of Melbourne
Award - Corresponding member of the Botanical Society of America
1959 -
Award - Life member of the Royal Society of Victoria
Life event - Retirement (official)
1959 - 1962
Career position - Honorary Associate at the National Museum of Victoria

Related Corporate Bodies

Published resources

Encyclopedia of Australian Science Exhibitions

Book Sections

  • Dettman, Mary E., 'Cookson, Isabel Clifton (1893-1973), Botanist and Palaeobotanist' in Australian Dictionary of Biography, John Ritchie, ed., vol. 13 (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1993), pp. 401-492. Details
  • Dettmann, Mary E., 'Isabel Cookson (1893-1973) palaeobotanist' in 200 Australian Women: A Redress Anthology, Heather Radi, ed. (Sydney: Women's Redress Press Inc, 1988). Details

Edited Books

  • Radi, H. ed., 200 Australian Women: a Redress Anthology (Sydney: Women's Redress Press Inc, 1988), 268 pp. Details

Journal Articles

  • Flesch, Juliet and McPhee, Peter, '150 Years, 150 Stories: Isabel Clifton Cookson', Uni News, 11 (21) (2002), 4. Details
  • Turner, S., 'Invincible but mostly Invisible: Australian Women's Contribution to Geology and Palaeontology', Geological Society Special Publication, 281 (2007), 165-202. Details


See also

  • Flesch, Juliet and McPhee, Peter, 150 years, 150 stories: brief biographies of one hundred and fifty remarkable people associated with the University of Melbourne (Melbourne: Department of History, University of Melbourne, 2003), 168 pp. Details

Annette Alafaci