Dr Elsie Widdowson CH FRS in interview with Sir Gordon Wolstenholme


In this interview recorded shortly before her ninetieth birthday, Dr Elsie Widdowson talks of an early interest in zoology at school in Sydenham, London, and an undergraduate course in chemistry and postgraduate studies in plant physiology at Imperial College, London. She acknowledges the important influence of her PhD supervisor, Helen Archbold. She then discusses a move to the Courtauld Institute at the Middlesex Hospital in 1932 to work on human biochemistry with Professor E C Dodds, followed by her enrolment in 1933 on a postgraduate course in dietetics at King's College of Household and Social Science. She goes on to talk of a first encounter with Robert McCance that led to a scientific partnership lasting sixty years. Dr Widdowson discusses their work on food analysis, the compilation of food tables, and the publication in 1940 of the first edition of their book 'The Chemical Composition of Foods'. The discussion then moves to work by McCance and Widdowson on infant feeding, started at King's and resumed after the war following a move to Cambridge in 1938. Two major studies undertaken during the war are described: an experimental study of rationing, in which Andrew Huxley participated, and an investigation of the effect of high extraction flour on the absorption of calcium. Dr Widdowson speaks of post-war work in Germany, including an MRC sponsored three-year study of severely undernourished adults, and a study of bread in the diet of children. She then outlines her work with experimental animals following her return to England, in particular studies on low-weight pigs. There follows some discussion of nutritional diseases in the developing world, in particular kwashiorkor and marasmus in Uganda. After returning to the subject of infant feeding, the interview concludes with reflection on a long career with varied research interests, and a final tribute to the late Professor Robert McCance.

Other description

Professor Robert McCance, chemical composition of foods, food tables, infant feeding, wartime studies of food rationing, studies on bread, studies of undernourished pigs, nutritional diseases in Uganda.


Biochemistry, Neonatology, Nutritional sciences, Research,

Project reference numbers

vid-228, MSVA_141

DOI (Digital Object Identifier)

Permanent link to this resource:


Attached files


Widdowson, Elsie
Wolstenholme, Gordon

Oxford Brookes departments

Learning Resources


Original artefact: 1996
RADAR resource: 2017


Oxford, UK

© Oxford Brookes University; The Royal College of Physicians
Published by Oxford Brookes University
All rights reserved.

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This RADAR resource is Part of Medical Sciences Video Archive


  • Owner: Annabel Valentine
  • Collection: Archives
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