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Scott, Katherine Marjorie Frances (née Bright) (1913-1998)

Marine biologist and later freshwater biologist who specialised in caddisflies (Trichoptera)

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See Trichoptera taxa described


19 Jan 1913 Born 
  Educated at Rustenburg High School
1933 Awarded a B.Sc. at the University of Cape Town with majors in Zoology, Botany and Geology.
1932-1936 Took part in University of Cape Town coastal surveys under the direction of Professor T.A. Stephenson.
1934 Obtained an M.Sc. with first class honours from the University of Cape Town.
1937 Married Richard Thring Scott. They lived in the Argentine for three years until just after the start of World War II. 
1937-1939 (date?) Daughter Anne born.
1939 Obtained a Ph.D. in marine ecology at University of Cape Town (UCT). Her Ph.D. thesis was entitled "The South African intertidal zone and its relation to ocean currents; two areas on the southern and northern parts of the West Coast respectively".
1940-1945 (date?) Daughter Patricia born
1940-? Worked for a period in the Department of Zoology at University of Cape Town and later at the Huguenot University College at Wellington.
1947-1951 Temporary lecturer in Zoology at UCT, under Professor John Day.
Feb 1951 Husband Richard died at the age of 59.
1951-1955 Worked as a research assistant at the National Institute of Water Research (CSIR). This started off her career in freshwater biology where she developed a specialisation in the caddisflies (Trichoptera).
1955? Granted a CSIR Senor Bursary.
May 1958 Appointed to the National Institute of Water Research (NIWR) as a Research Officer. 
1963 Transferred to Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape where she directed a NIWR Research Unit which later disbanded.
Feb 1972 Transferred to the Albany Museum to take charge of the NIWR Collection of Freshwater Organisms, later to become the National Collection of Freshwater Invertebrates of which she was curator.
1978 Retired from the NIWR, based at the Albany Museum, by which time she was a Senior Chief Research Officer. Continued her research on caddisflies in retirement.
Nov. 1993 Awarded the Gold Medal of the Limnological Society of South Africa (now known as the South African Society of Aquatic Scientists) in recognition of her tremendous contribution to the furtherance of knowledge in the aquatic sciences.
26 April 1998 Died in Grahamstown at the age of 85.

Katherine Marjorie Frances Scott (nee Bright), known as Marjorie or Doc Scott to friends and colleagues, was the daughter of Henry Hepburn Bright, of the South African Harbourboard and later farmer, and Wilhemine Henrietta Anna Bleek, daughter of Dr W H I Bleek the well-known philologist who pioneered studies on Bushman languages in the Cape.

The Bleek family played a major role in Marjorie's early development, particularly since her aunt, Dorothea Bleek was a part of their household. This was a family with a strong tradition of respect for Scientific endeavor in which women were encouraged to learn and achieve. All three of WHI Bleek's daughters were sent to Germany and Switzerland to further their education: Dorothea specialised in linguistics and anthropology, Margaret studied medicine and Marjorie's mother, Wilhemine, studied music and later went on to become a concert-pianist. The work of the Bleek family (Marjorie's grandfather, WHI Bleek, great-aunt Lucy Lloyd and her aunt, Dorothea Bleek) today forms the foundation of most studies done on San languages and traditions and is of immense value to anthropology and archaeology in South Africa.

This is the background which shaped Marjorie Scott: her meticulous attention to detail and the energy and dedication which she brought to bear on the pursuit of her goals all stem from a strong tradition of the pursuit of scientific excellence. Marjorie's fascination with her work never faltered and she worked steadily, five days a week at the Albany Museum, right up until a few months before her death at the age of 85.
Marjorie Scott was educated at Rustenburg High School, Rondebosch, and the University of Cape Town (UCT), where she was awarded a BSc with Zoology, Botany and Geology majors in 1933. She obtained an MSc with First Class Honours in 1934 and in 1939 a PhD in marine ecology. Her PhD thesis was entitled "The South African Intertidal Zone and its relation to Ocean currents; two areas on the southern and northern parts of the West Coast respectively".

While a student at UCT Marjorie was introduced to marine biology by Professor, T A Stephenson, a Fellow of the Royal Society and an international figure in the biological world. Intertidal ecology became Marjorie's initial speciality and between 1932 and 1936 she took part in many of the coastal surveys carried out under Stephenson's direction, becoming personally involved in those of the Cape Peninsula (particularly at Oudekraal and in False Bay), Port Nolloth, Still Bay, Port Elizabeth and Durban.

Before she left UCT Marjorie was offered a Junior Lectureship in the Zoology Department, but could not accept as she had married Richard Thring Scott early in 1937 and the couple left for the Argentine where they lived for three years until just after the start of World War II. Marjorie did not work in the field during this period, but became interested in birdlife and also noted the remarkable similarity (in zonation and faunal types) between the South American and South African intertidal regions. Marjorie's oldest daughter, Anne, was born during this period and a second daughter, Patricia, was born at Newlands, Cape, later during the war.

After returning to South Africa at the beginning of the second world war, Marjorie worked for a period in the Department of Zoology at UCT and later at the Huguenot University College at Wellington. The family then returned to Cape Town, where Marjorie held a Temporary Lectureship, under Professor John Day, from 1947 to 1951. During this period her research switched to estuaries, and she was involved in two estuarine surveys (on the Klein River Lake Estuary at Hermanus and the Diep River and Riet Vlei at Milnerton). During this period she also carried out research on the marine Polyzoa - a very interesting, but frustrating study since the world systematics of the group was in a state of flux.

In February 1951 Marjorie suffered the loss of her husband, Richard, who died as a result of a coronary thrombosis at the age of 59 when their two daughters, Anne and Patricia, were only twelve and nine years old respectively. This loss co-incided with another change in career: Marjorie obtained a post at the National Institute of Water Research (CSIR) where she worked as a Research Assistant until 1955, after which she was granted a CSIR Senior Bursary. In May 1958 she was appointed to the NIWR staff as a Research Officer, and remained with the NIWR, (where she was later appointed as a Senior Chief Research Officer) until her retirement at the end of 1978.

The move to the CSIR resulted in a change of research-emphasis towards fresh water biology. Her initial field of interest, influenced by her active involvement in Arthur Harrison's survey of the Great Berg River, was in freshwater ecology. Due to the tenuous state of systematics in this field, it was perhaps inevitable that as she progressed in this study Marjorie would find herself increasingly drawn into taxonomic studies - firstly of adult Chironomidae and later of both larval and adult Trichoptera. The systematics of the latter group gradually became her main field of study, although this did often encompass associated studies of the general biology and ecology of selected species. While in the Western Cape her studies centred mainly on the Berg River, but included parts of the Breede, the Witte and the Palmiet Rivers and some of their tributaries.

In 1963 Marjorie was transferred to Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape, where she directed a NIWR Research Unit which included Mark Chutter, Bella Cholnoky, Archie Archibald and Henry Welsh. This team carried out surveys of the Sundays and Fish Rivers, and also paid attention to the small hill streams near Grahamstown and the Hogsback (near Alice in the Eastern Cape). Having completed the surveys, the Unit later gradually disbanded.

In February 1972 Marjorie was transferred to the Albany Museum to take charge of the NIWR Collection of Freshwater Organisms. To that collection initially were added the Albany Museum collections, mainly comprising several smaller collections and a very large number of Dytiscid beetles collected by Professors Joe and Joyce Omer-Cooper in Europe and various parts of Africa, from the Cape to the Sudan. The collection then became the National Collection of Freshwater Invertebrates of which she was curator until she retired in December 1978.

Over the years the National Collection of Freshwater Invertebrates has grown substantially as a result of direct collecting by museum personel and donations from other workers. As Curator Marjorie continued research on the Trichoptera, although much of her time was taken up in other necessary tasks, such as curation, the exchange of material with other museums and in building up the library of books and reprints.

"Retirement" gave Marjorie the opportunity to devote more of her time to the study of Trichoptera, and despite several illnesses, she has continued her work of identifying collections from as far afield as Kenya and Ethiopia. Several new papers were published during this period including monographs on Hydropsychidae and on three endemic South African families of Trichoptera published in 1978 and 1993 respectively. A comparative study of these families with other closely-related families around the world was also completed in 1993. At the time of her death Marjorie was working together with the author on a text book of Trichopteran identification. All this work was done on a voluntary basis as an Honorary Research Associate of the Albany Museum.

In addition to the solid scientific value of her written papers, it must also be noted that Marjorie was a brilliant scientific illustrator and she has left a legacy of drawings which are scientifically accurate and aesthetically pleasing.

I have had the honour of being able to work with and learn from Marjorie since my appointment as Curator of Freshwater Invertebrates at the Albany Museum in 1984. It has been an great priviledge to have such a person as a mentor, and I have benefitted immeasurably from her vast store of knowledge, particularly in the field of Trichoptera systematics. I will remember Marjorie for her deep knowledge and understanding of the Afrotropical Trichoptera and for her meticulous attention to detail. Her well organised laboratory with its excellent card index system which allows for rapid access to specimens, reprints, illustrations and species descriptions, remains a tangible record of the enormous amount of work which she has undertaken. In her systematic work Marjorie has created order out of chaos and her work has laid a solid foundation for further studies in this field. Her passing also represents a personal loss of a friend and colleague whose guidance and inspiration will be sorely missed.


In the early 1950's Marjorie was elected to Membership of the Royal Society of South Africa and joined the South African Association for the Advancement of Science (S2A3) and also the South African Ornithological Society (SAOS). She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa in 1970, and became a Life Member of the S2A3 about the same time. Marjorie was on the Cape Town Committee of SAOS for some years, resigning from that society later and joining the Diaz Bird Club when in the Eastern Cape. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society of London in 1953, and sadly had to resign for financial reasons in 1987. She joined the British Freshwater Biological Association in 1962, later becoming a Life member. She joined the Zoological Society in 1965, when it started, but resigned many years later because her interests no longer lay in that direction. She is a Foundation member of the Limnological Society of South Africa (LSSA) (1963) and edited its Newsletter for about seven years and was offered its first Honorary Life Membership in 1979. Marjorie was invited to attend the 28th Congress of the South African Society of Aquatic Scientists in 1991 and was awarded jointly, with F C de Moor and H M Barber as co-authors, for the best poster paper presentation at the Congress. In 1992 she was elected as a member of the advisory board of the International Trichoptera Newsletter, Braueria. This was a great honour as the board represents members from Mexico, The United Kingdom, The USA, Bulgaria, Austria, Germany, Italy, Australia, Canada, France, Japan and of course also South Africa.

In November 1993 Marjorie was awarded the Gold Medal of the Limnological Society of South Africa (now known as the South African Society of Aquatic Scientists, SASAQS) in recognition of her tremendous contribution to the furtherance of knowledge in the aquatic sciences. 

Written by F.C. de Moor ©; originally published as an obituary in the Trichoptera newsletter Braueria 25: 4-6.   

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