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Miriam Louisa Rothschild (1908-2005)

The Rothschild Archive has very few private papers of Miriam Rothschild. 

Dame Miriam Louisa Rothschild, born on 5 August 1908, was the eldest child of Nathaniel Charles Rothschild and Rozsika von Wertheimstein. 

Career a as a natural historian

Miriam was a zoologist, entomologist and parasitologist who was a world authority on fleas, butterflies, pyrazines and chemical communication. Lacking a formal education, she was inspired by the work of her father and uncle. Miriam studied zoology at Chelsea Polytechnic, now part of King’s College, London. Her early work was as a marine biologist, specifically looking at larval trematodes. Following bomb damage to her research material while living in Plymouth during the Second World War and a later move inland, Miriam turned her attention to fleas. She investigated the jumping mechanism of the plague carrying flea Xenospylla cheopis, a species first described by her father, Charles Rothschild, in 1903. Later, in connection with her research on the rabbit flea as a vector of myxomatosis she discovered that its breeding cycle was controlled by that of its host. Miriam co-authored a collection of volumes detailing the taxonomy and morphology of her father’s collection of fleas. Miriam was also interested in the ways in which insects consume and store toxins from food plants, specifically in the context of butterflies and this research led to allied examinations of warning coloration and mimicry.

Nature conservation and social causes

In addition to her academic work, Miriam championed nature conservation and was actively involved in a broad range of civic, social and political causes, including providing scientific evidence to the Wolfenden Committee whose report assisted in decriminalising homosexuality. She was active in the field of mental health, establishing the Schizophrenia Research Fund. Miriam’s garden at Ashton Wold in Northamptonshire was described as ‘an outstanding example of wildflower and grassland gardening’. Her expertise in nature conservancy led to her advising HRH Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales when he was creating an experimental wildflower meadow at his Highgrove Estate. She was editor of Novitates Zoologicae between 1938 and 1941; a journal of zoology established by her uncle, Walter, 2nd Lord Rothschild, in 1894 which was published by the Tring Natural History Museum.  She was with the Foreign Office between 1940 and 1942. During the Second World War, she joined a group of distinguished scientists, linguists and other personnel at the British Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, where she worked as a translator. She received a Defence Medal in 1945 from the British Government for her work.  She aided refugee Jewish scientists during and after the war and she also worked with several organisations dedicated to helping Jewish children escape from Germany and Austria, often housing some of these refugees in her own home at Ashton Wold, Oundle, Northamptonshire, which was used by the Red Cross as a convalescent hospital for military personnel.

Scientific publications and recognition

Dame Miriam published over three hundred scientific papers during her lifetime.  Miriam Rothschild used different names throughout her life, often inconsistently. In her professional scientific career, she was known as Mrs Lane, Dr. Lane and Dr. Rothschild. For administrative and legal matters, she was known as Mrs Lane and from 2000 Dame Miriam Rothschild. For ease of reference, the name ‘Miriam Rothschild’ is most commonly used by The Rothschild Archive.

Having been educated at home from a young age, she was awarded several honorary degrees throughout her life including Doctor of Science (D.Sc.) by Oxford University in 1968, Doctor of Science (D.Sc.) by Göteborg University, Göteborg, Sweden, in 1983, and Doctor of Science (D.Sc.) by Cambridge University in 1999.

Dame Miriam was also decorated with several awards in recognition of her work.  She was decorated with the award of the Bloomer Award (of the Linnean Society) in 1968, the Wigglesworth Gold Medal (of the Rota Entomological Society) in 1982, and she was invested as a Commander, Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.) in 1982.  In 1985 she was invested as a Fellow, Royal Society, and became, with her brother Victor, the only brother and sister to have both been made Fellows of the Royal Society.  She was decorated with the award of the Victoria Medal of Honour (of the Royal Horticultural Society) in 1991 and was decorated with the award of the Mendel Award (of the Czech Science Academy) two years later in 1993.  She was invested as a Dame Commander, Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 2000. Dame Miriam died 20 January 2005, aged 96.

Dame Miriam was Sue Lawley's guest on Desert Island Discs, on 23 April 1989. Listen to the broadcast on the BBC website here. 

See also Named Collections, The Ashton Wold Collection »

Miriam Rothschild, photographs, c.1995

000/538, 1 item

Photograph of Miriam Rothschild. Miriam is shown in a headscarf, under a tree with a shetland sheepdog, in a field of bluebells, on the Ashton estate.

Miriam Rothschild, obituaries, 2005

000/2604, 1 folder

Folder of originals and photocopies of international, national and local newspaper, magazine and newsletter obituaries and articles concerning Dame Miriam Rothschild and her life and work. Published in 2005 upon Dame Miriam's death, aged 96. Includes pieces from The Guardian, Tring Residents' Association, The Jewish Chronicle, The Times, the Economist, The Evening Standard, The Daily Mail, Berkhamsted & Tring Gazette, The Independent,  Dienstag, The New York Times, and print-outs of pages from websites, such as The Wildlife Trusts.

Miriam Rothschild, Memorial Service, 2005

000/1536, 1 file, 1 CD

Papers concerning the Memorial Service for Dame Miriam Rothschild, held 7 April 2005: Order of Service; invitation; list of acceptances; CD audio recording of the service.

Miriam Rothschild, recording of appearance on 'Desert Island Discs', 1989

000/2378/2, 1 digital file

BBC Radio 4 Desert Island Discs with Miriam Rothschild (1908-2007). First aired on Friday 28 April 1989. 'Sue Lawley's castaway is biologist Miriam Rothschild.' Music played:

  • If you were the only girl in the world
  • Paul Robeson: Some enchanted evening
  • Paul Robeson: My Lindy Lou (Castaway's favourite)
  • Johann Sebastian Bach: Cello Suite No. 5 - Prelude
  • Sound effects: Nightingale song
  • Henry Purcel: Fantasia in D Minor for Four Viols
  • Paul Francis Webster: Somewhere my Love (Lara's Theme)
  • Teddie St Denis & Co: Lambeth Walk
  • Book choice: The complete works of Proust
  • Luxury choice: Bag of wild flower seed

Miriam Rothschild, secondary sources, 'LIFE' magazine, 1956

000/2704, 1 item

Copy of LIFE Magazine, 10 September 1956. This edition carried an article ‘An Eminent Company of Amateur Naturalists - Part-time scientists add to man's store of knowledge'. Miriam Rothschild is one of a number of 'amateur' scientists featured. The article is accompanied by an image of Miriam in a laboratory,  presumed to be her Oxford laboratory although the image is uncaptioned. This photograph and a number of others, including Miriam with her children in the same laboratory were taken for LIFE magazine by Carl Mydans on 1 January 1956. Although only one image was published, a number of other unpublished images from the photoshoot are available from the Getty Image library. 

Miriam Rothschild, secondary sources, 'Homes and Gardens', 1986

000/2006, 1 item

Homes and Gardens magazine, October 1986: 'Two Lady Gardeners: Rosemary Brown and Dr Miriam Rothschild' concerning the garden at Ashton Wold.

Miriam Rothschild, secondary sources, 'Miriam Rothschild', 1990

000/787, 1 item

Pamphlet Miriam Rothschild, in the series Women in Science, Shell Educational Supplement, 1990.

Miriam Rothschild, secondary sources, 'Country Life', 2003

000/2373, 1 item

Article on Miriam Rothschild's Wildflower Garden at Ashton Wold, published in Country Life, 13 November 2003.

Miriam Rothschild, secondary sources, 'Dame Miriam Louisa Rothschild CBE (1908-2005)' , 2006

000/2447, 1 item

Printed monograph Dame Miriam Louisa Rothschild CBE (1908-2005) by Helmut F van Endem and Sir John Gurdon (The Royal Society, 2006).

Miriam Rothschild, secondary sources, 'Country Life', 2008

000/1884, 1 item

Article on Miriam Rothschild's Wildflower Seeds, published in Country Life, 17 January 2008.

Miriam Rothschild, secondary sources, 'Scientists', 2013

000/2172, 1 item

Exhibition catalogue for 'Scientists' held at The Royal Society, summer 2013. The cover features the bronze bust of Dame Miriam Rothschild by Marcus Cornish, which was loaned by The Rothschild Archive London for the exhibition.

Miriam Rothschild, secondary sources, 'Seven Wonders of the World', 1995

000/1487, 1 VHS cassette

Recording of Seven Wonders of the World, broadcast on BBC 2, 1995 , featuring Miriam Rothschild. The programme consists of interview with Miriam at Ashton Wold, as she gives her personal choices for the wonders of the world: the Monarch buterfly, the jump of the flea, the dawn on the Jungfrau, the Zoological Museum at Tring, the worm Halipegus, Carotenoids C40 H56 and the city of Jerusalem.

Miriam Rothschild, secondary sources, 'Rothschild Inheritance', 1996

000/552, 1 cassette tape

Rothschild Inheritance, featured on Good Morning Suffolk, BBC Radio Suffolk, 4 December 1996.

Miriam Rothschild, secondary sources, 'Growing Spaces', 1997

000/578, 1 cassette tape

Recording of Growing Spaces, broadcast on Radio 4, 9 May 1997, featuring Miriam Rothschild, Lionel de Rothschild and Beth Tomassini.

Miriam Rothschild, secondary sources, 'Paradise Gardens', 1997

000/548, 1 VHS cassette

Recording of Geoff Hamilton’s Paradise Gardens, broadcast on BBC 2, 28 January 1997, featuring Miriam Rothschild.

Miriam Rothschild, secondary sources, 'Eureka', 1997

000/1999, 1 cassette tape

Recording of Eureka, broadcast on BBC Radio 4, 11 June 1997, featuring an interview with Miriam Rothschild on her life and work as a naturalist.

Miriam Rothschild, secondary sources, 'Changing Places', 2002

000/1126, 1 cassette tape

Recording of Changing Places, broadcast on BBC Radio 4, 5 July 2002, featuring Miriam Rothschild.

Miriam Rothschild, secondary sources, 'Dame Miriam Rothschild', 1993; 2005

000/1559, 2 CDs

Recording of Dame Miriam Rothschild 1908-2005, broadcast on ABC Radio (Australia), 26 March 2005. First broadcast in 1993, revised in 2005 following Dame Miriam's death.

Publications and scientific papers

The Archive does not hold copies of all of Miriam's published works. A comprehensive list of all her published works, including books (on a variety of topics) and scientific books and articles will be found here Rothschild bibliography: Miriam Rothschild »

Copies of published works in the Archive collection are listed below, in order of publication date. In addition to the items listed below, further publications will be found in the Reading Room Library.

Miriam Rothschild, publications, Catalogue of the Rothschild Collection of Fleas, 1953-1971

000/1401/3, 22 volumes

Copies of the six volume work An Illustrated Catalogue of the Rothschild Collection of Fleas; one full set plus sundry duplicate copies. Note: a complete six volume set is kept in the Reading Room.

  • Volume I: An Illustrated Catalogue of the Rothschild Collection of Fleas: Tungidae and Pulicidae, G.H.E. Hopkins and Miriam Rothschild, The Trustees of the British Museum (Natural History), 1953 (6 copies)
  • Volume II: An Illustrated Catalogue of the Rothschild Collection of Fleas: Vermipsyllidae and Xiphiopsylladae, G.H.E. Hopkins and Miriam Rothschild, The Trustees of the British Museum (Natural History), 1956 (2 copies)
  • Volume III: An Illustrated Catalogue of the Rothschild Collection of Fleas: Histricopsyllidae, G.H.E. Hopkins and Miriam Rothschild, The Trustees of the British Museum (Natural History), 1962 (2 copies)
  • Volume IV: An Illustrated Catalogue of the Rothschild Collection of Fleas: Histricopsyllidae Concluded, G.H.E. Hopkins and Miriam Rothschild, The Trustees of the British Museum (Natural History), 1966 (4 copies)
  • Volume V: An Illustrated Catalogue of the Rothschild Collection of Fleas: Leptopsyllidae, G.H.E. Hopkins and Miriam Rothschild, The Trustees of the British Museum (Natural History), 1971 (5 copies)
  • Volume VI: An Illustrated Catalogue of the Rothschild Collection of Fleas: Pygiopsyllidae, D.K. Mardon, G.H.E. Hopkins and Miriam Rothschild, The Trustees of the British Museum (Natural History), 1971 (1 copy)

Miriam Rothschild, publications, A revised glossary of terms used in the Taxonomy and Morphology of Fleas, 1971

000/1401/4, 5 volumes

Copies of A revised glossary of terms used in the Taxonomy and Morphology of Fleas, by Miriam Rothschild and Robert Traub. Reprinted from An Illustrated Catalogue of the Rothschild Collection of Fleas (Siphonaptera) in the British Museum (Natural History), Volume V, pp 8-85, Trustees of the British Museum (Natural History), London, 1971. Note: a copy is kept in the Reading Room.

Miriam Rothschild, publications, The Rothschild Collection of Fleas, The Ceratophyllidae, 1983

000/1401/5, 5 volumes

Copies of The Rothschild Collection of Fleas, The Ceratophyllidae, by Robert Traub, Miriam Rothschild and John Haddow . Published privately by Miriam Rothschild and Robert Traub, Academic Press Inc. (London), 1983. Note: a copy is kept in the Reading Room.

Miriam Rothschild, publications, offprints and articles, 1960-2004

000/1327, 000/1401/1 and 000/1401/2, 6 volumes; 6 boxes; 1 file

000/1401/1: A set of articles and offprints of articles authored and co-authored by Miriam Rothschild, consisting mainly of scientific papers and with some biographical notices and obituaries. The collection was originally transferred to the Archive loose in several boxes. They were sorted and bound at the request of the Archive into six slip-cased volumes in 2011: Volume 1: 1960-1964; Volume 2: 1965-1969; Volume 3: 1970-1979, (part 1); Volume 4: 1970-1979, (part 1); Volume 5: 1980-1989; Volume 6: 1990-2001.

000/1327 and 000/1401/2 consists of six boxes of duplicate articles and other publications from which the set in 000/1401/1 was compiled. Note that 000/1401/2 contains additional items not bound into the reference set in 000/1401/1.

Miriam Rothschild, publications, 'John Foster', 1986

000/394, 1 file

John Foster by Miriam Rothschild, the address given on the occasion of the first John Foster Memorial Lecture at University College London, 4 November 1986.

Miriam Rothschild, publications, 'Isaiah Berlin' and 'Sir John Foster and The Jews', 1998

000/678, 2 items

Two privately printed pamphlets by Miriam Rothschild: Isaiah Berlin and Sir John Foster and The Jews.

Miriam Rothschild, publications, 'Tadeus Reichstein', 1999

000/786, 1 item

Tadeus Reichstein, offprint of memoir by Miriam Rothschild published in Biog. Mems Fell R. Soc. Lond. 45 (1999).

Miriam Rothschild, publications, 'The Schizophrenia Research Fund', n.d.

000/1496, 1 item

Pamphlet The Schizophrenia Research Fund by Miriam Rothschild. Miriam founded the Schizophrenia Research Fund in 1962, an independent registered charity formed “to advance the better understanding, prevention, treatment and cure of all forms of mental illness and in particular of the illness known as Schizophrenia”. In March 2006, following her death, the name of the Fund was changed in her memory to the Miriam Rothschild Schizophrenia Research Fund.

Miriam Rothschild, research notes, 'Rothschild Gardens', c.1990

000/529, 6 boxes

Research papers for the book Rothschild Gardens, by Miriam Rothschild, Kate Garton and Lionel de Rothschild, arranged in folders by name of Rothschild property: Château Boulogne-Billancourt, Boulogne-sur-Seine and Château d'Armainvilliers, Seine-et-Marne; Villa Victoria, Grasse; Château de Pregny, Geneva: Gunnersbury Park; Château de Ferrières, Seine-et-Marne, Tring Park; Bockenheimer Landstrasse, Frankfurt; Aston Clinton; Exbury; Villa Ile-de-France, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat; Mentmore Towers; Hohe Warte, Vienna; Halton; Ascott; Ramat Hanadiv; Waddesdon Manor.

The files contain very few original documents, mainly photocopies and copy photographs. Many are copies of documents in the collections of The Rothschild Archive. 000/529/27 is a large rolled coloured map of the Château de Pregny, 'Inventaire des arbres', (Inventory of trees), with different species marked, dated 20 July 1989.

000/529/26 is a collection of 46 reproduction photographs of various Rothschild houses and gardens, from the collections of the National Monuments Record (numbers in brackets are National Monuments Record reference numbers):

  • 000/529/26/1 Ascott: garden (1507)
  • 000/529/26/2 Ascott: garden (1508)
  • 000/529/26/3 Ascott: garden (1509)
  • 000/529/26/4 Ascott: garden (1512)
  • 000/529/26/5 Ascott: garden (1514)
  • 000/529/26/6 Ascott: garden (10348-3)
  • 000/529/26/7 Ascott: garden (10348-4)
  • 000/529/26/8 Ascott: garden (10348-7)
  • 000/529/26/9 Ascott: garden (10348-10)
  • 000/529/26/10 Ascott: garden (10348-12A)
  • 000/529/26/11 Ascott: garden (10348-20)
  • 000/529/26/12 Ascott: gardener Jennings in his garden (10348-24)
  • 000/529/26/13 Ascott: garden (10348-25)
  • 000/529/26/14 Ascott: garden (12323-8)
  • 000/529/26/15 Ascott: garden (12324-3)
  • 000/529/26/16 Ascott: garden (12324-4)
  • 000/529/26/17 Ascott: garden (12324-9)
  • 000/529/26/18 Ascott: garden (9075)
  • 000/529/26/19 Ascott: garden (no ref)
  • 000/529/26/20 Gunnersbury Park: garden (825)
  • 000/529/26/21 Gunnersbury Park: garden (828)
  • 000/529/26/22 Gunnersbury Park: Orangery from across lake (830)
  • 000/529/26/23 Gunnersbury Park: terrace (CC56/24)
  • 000/529/26/24 Gunnersbury Park: the alcove (CC56/25)
  • 000/529/26/25 Gunnersbury Park: garden (CC56/30)
  • 000/529/26/26 Gunnersbury Park: the Japanese Garden (CC88/84)
  • 000/529/26/27 Gunnersbury Park: the Japanese Garden (CC88/85)
  • 000/529/26/28 Gunnersbury Park: the Temple Garden (CC88/86)
  • 000/529/26/29 Gunnersbury Park: view of Temple through trees (L3666-3674)
  • 000/529/26/30Gunnersbury Park: rose arches on lawn (L3666-3674)
  • 000/529/26/31 Gunnersbury Park: terrace (L3666-3674)
  • 000/529/26/32 Gunnersbury Park: terrace (L3666-3674)
  • 000/529/26/33 Gunnersbury Park: house viewed through arch (L3666-3674)
  • 000/529/26/34 Halton: gardens, 1892 (BL 11772)
  • 000/529/26/35 Halton: gardens, 1892 (BL 11778)
  • 000/529/26/36 Halton: gardens, 1892 (BL 11779)
  • 000/529/26/37 Mentmore Towers: gardens (BB77/11585)
  • 000/529/26/38 Tring Park: ladies on terrace, 1892 (Lady Emma Rothschild on right) (11785-1)
  • 000/529/26/39 Tring Park: ladies on terrace, 1892 (Lady Emma Rothschild on right) (11785-2)
  • 000/529/26/40 Tring Park: view of mansion, 1892 (11789-12)
  • 000/529/26/41 Tring Park: gardens, 1892 (11790-14)
  • 000/529/26/42 Tring Park: gardens, 1892 (11792-20)
  • 000/529/26/43 Tring Park: gardens (11798-26)
  • 000/529/26/44 Tring Park: topiary (L3063-3066)
  • 000/529/26/45 Tring Park: man clipping bush in front of tennis court (L3063-3066)
  • 000/529/26/46 Waddesdon Manor: gardens with mansion behind (L3345-3350-3349)