Carpenter and Moss, freshwater textbook giants


Ward&WhippleIn the introduction to her Ph. D (1925) on the impact of metal mine pollution on Cardiganshire river ecosystems, Kathleen Carpenter wrote:
“The writer knows of no British treatise which surveys the conditions and grouping of life in fresh-waters in the method adopted, for example, in the appropriate section of Shelford’s Animal Communities in Temperate America (Chicago, 1912), or in the chapters of general scope in Ward and Whipple’s Fresh-Water Biology (New York, 1918), and of no British enterprise to be compared with the scheme of thorough and detailed survey of a freshwater lake-system from the ecological standpoint at present being carried out by the Biological Department of the Canadian University of Toronto. “………

“The most that British zoologists can show are a few studies of the plankton of English, Scotch or Irish lakes…..”

Kathleen Carpenter realised that the lack of a British freshwater textbook was a career defining opportunity for her. It is evident that her Ph.D. thesis at Aberystwyth University formed the basis of her seminal textbook, Life in Inland Waters.  It opened the door to an international career for her in North America. She first travelled there in 1924 for a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Toronto, and presumably during this visit she visited the Biological Department of Toronto University.

She returned to Britain for her final professional appointment as a lecturer at Liverpool University just before the outbreak of World War II.  Today the 5th edition of one of the most universally popular freshwater textbooks, Ecology of Freshwaters by the late, great Prof. Brian Moss, also of Liverpool University, is going through the final stages before publication.

Kathleen Carpenter and Brian Moss shared a passion for the biodiversity of aquatic ecosystems. Together these two freshwater giants have secured an ever lasting place on the academic textbook stage – inspiring generations of students.



Kathleen Carpenter at Old Bank House, Aberystwyth



Old Bank House, Aberystwyth.

The paired doorway characterises Old Bank House, a historic building, on Bridge Street, Aberystwyth.  The 6 panel split door on the left must have been opened wide for bank customers. While the young assistant lecturer Kathleen Carpenter would have looked down past the edge of her skirt to step up to the right-hand door leading to her accommodation. She would have had a short walk through the sheltered back streets to the library and science laboratories in Old College.


Plaque on Old Bank House.

Old Bank House, a late Georgian building, was the first bank in Aberystwyth, and possibly in Wales. It opened in 1760 and was established to serve the local maritime community.  It was eventually taken over by the North and South Wales Bank which in 1870 moved to another site. The house was subsequently divided up as University accommodation.


Record of Kathleen Carpenter’s address and salary in Aberystwyth University Archives.

Shortly before Kathleen Carpenter lived there the  building had been a temporary Red Cross Hospital for recuperating World War One soldiers before it was moved to a larger building, The Cambria, opposite the pier.  The influx of soldiers must have changed the character of the town for its residents, and especially its young women. By December 1914 there were almost 9,000 troops in and around the town, and a substantial number of refugees.   The convalescing soldiers, many of them gas victims, recovered by taking the sea air and funds were raised to buy a rowing boat for their recreation. There were numerous fund raising events to support the hospital and war efforts, including football matches, concerts and Christmas fancy dress parties. Romances blossomed between the soldiers and local girls.

But here were also war time tensions.  In August 1914 a German lecturer at Aberystwyth University was given 24 hours to leave to the town by a large mob which gathered in front of his house.  Three months later Kathleen changed her German surname from Zimmerman to Carpenter.  In 1917 Dr. Fleure invited the patient soldiers to visit the Museum in Old College. It would have been an opportunity for Kathleen Carpenter to be on hand to explain some of the exhibits but did she do so?  The Spanish Flu epidemic reached Aberystwyth in the autumn of 1918, with the remaining convalescing soldiers not allowed to visit private homes and some local businesses closed due to lack of staff.

Kathleen Carpenter would have seen the world change around her when she lived at Old Bank House. As a young woman she would have realised the opportunity to contribute to society in new fields opening to women, including science.  At Aberystwyth University women students were in the majority during World War One, with men returning to dominate after the war.  With a German born father she would have been acutely aware of the politics; and perhaps have felt vulnerable but relatively safe in Aberystwyth? I would also like to think she enjoyed some of the social occasions.

I am grateful to Julie Archer, Records Manager at Aberystwyth University Archives, for the record linking Kathleen Carpenter to Old Bank House.  Thank you Julie!

Main sources:
Ellis, E.L (1972).  The University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, 1872-1972. University of Wales Press.
Troughton, W. (2015). Aberystwyth and the Great War. Amberley Publishing.

Did you know Kathleen Carpenter, freshwater ecologist?


Dr. Kathleen Carpenter

We have found only one personal account of Kathleen Carpenter, pioneering freshwater ecologist. She is sitting in a garden in Birkenhead eating cucumber sandwiches and discussing with her neighbours the recent outbreak of World War 2. It is a beautiful day but barrage balloons float overhead.

Poignantly it is also one of the last references we have for her, as her scientific career does not seem to extend beyond the duration of the war. However she lived until 1970, so it is possible that there is somebody still alive who may have known her during the final part of her life which she spent in Cheltenham.  For this reason we have sent the letter below to the Gloucestershire Echo. Please feel free to tweet this blog or direct others to it, if you think they might have known Kathleen Carpenter or her sister Bessey.

It is an exciting prospect to think we might talk to someone who talked to Kathleen! Hope you can help.

Bessy Carpenter

Bessey Adams (Carpenter)

“We are researching the life of a pioneering woman scientist named Kathleen Carpenter, who was living in Cheltenham when she died in 1970, aged 79. She was born in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, but her love of science took her around Britain and the USA. She was one of the first women scientists in Britain to study (in the 1920’s and 1930’s) the ecology of animals in rivers and lakes . She studied and lectured at Aberystwyth University before moving to America, where she taught in Illinois, Massachusetts, and Maryland. She returned to the UK to lecture in Liverpool during World War II.

We don’t know when she moved to Cheltenham, but she was living at Norwood, 39 Leckhampton Road, when she died in 1970. She may have earlier lived at Douglas House on Parabola Road. She never married, but was close to her sister, Bessey Adams, who also lived in Cheltenham. Bessey was a widowed former school headmistress from Stockton-on-Tees, who lived at 138 Leckhampton Road when she died in 1974, aged 93. 

We would be very pleased to hear from anybody who might have know either of these two accomplished women. We can be contacted at

Warren Kovach and Catherine Duigan”

Kathleen Carpenter returns to Aberystwyth University, International Women’s Day 2016


I was delighted to be invited by Dr. Sarah Davies of Aberystwyth University to give a presentation entitled “A Life in Fresh Water” – the life and science of Dr. Kathleen Carpenter on the evening before International Women’s Day (7 March 2016). The presentation was co-authored with Dr. Warren Kovach (@AngleseyHist) and we had the enthusiastic collaboration of the Carpenter family. This blog is a Twitter record of what transpired but please note I have now changed my Twitter account to @c_duigan

It was a beautiful drive to Aberystwyth on the day, although we were surprised to encounter snow down to the margins of the road between Maentwrog and Trawsfynydd. The study area for Kathleen Carpenter’s Ph.D. extended up to the Afon Dyfi so it seemed appropriate to stop after we crossed the Dyfi Bridge outside Machynlleth – Carpenter Country.


We spent part of the afternoon talking to Sarah Davies and making last minute preparations.


 At 1800 the audience started to arrive for the reception.


There was an air of anticipation….


On International Women’s Day, Dr. Kathleen Carpenter provided advice to the next generation of women freshwater biologists via The Freshwater Blog. You can read the blog Kathleen Carpenter: Mother of Freshwater Ecology here.



This blog generated tweets around the world and allowed her to truly claim the title “mother” of freshwater ecology.  From Ireland, Switzerland and Germany….



and Netherlands.


It was very appropriate that some of the tweeters were women professors of freshwater ecology, Ph.D students and researchers, and conservationists in North America because Kathleen Carpenter went on to hold research and teaching positions in the US.





You can listen to her book preface here.

We know Kathleen Carpenter was a member of the British Ecological Society, so thank you BES!


On International Women’s Day we walked in the footsteps of Kathleen Carpenter in Old College, Aberystwyth University, where she studied. Hopefully she will feature in future accounts of the history of the college.

Old College



The lecture reviews were kind.


You can read this review in full here and it made all the research and preparations worthwhile. Thank you so much @FriendlyBugBlog.




The weekend before the lecture we set up a Wikipedia page for Kathleen Carpenter, following a suggestion by Prof. Hilary Lappin-Scott. Within two weeks it had hundreds of views.


On International Women’s Day, Prof. Lappin-Scott launched a Welsh Government Report on women in science in Wales – We need to recruit, retain and promote women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).


We also made links with two other important projects researching the lives of British women ecologists who worked around the world.

The project, Women Freshwater Biologists (1929 – 1990), is part of a wider initiative to archive the collections of samples, correspondence and research of scientists who have worked with the Freshwater Biological Association (FBA) based on Windermere.


Love this picture! Although there are photographs of FBA women working in skirts, Winifred Frost (circa 1950) is being practical and comfortable in her boots and trousers.

Dr. Mary Gillham of Cardiff University has written books on the environmental history of the river valleys of South Wales and the nature of Welsh islands. Her diaries, papers, photographs are the subject of the Mary Gillham Archive Project (@GillhamArchive).


The research on Kathleeen Carpenter has not stopped, with a new clue that she was at McGill University in Montreal.


But there is also more to find out at Aberstwyth University.


The story continues and we will share our progress on this blog.

R.M.S. “Megantic”, Ship of Science 1924



On 25th July 1924 the White Star Line Ship Megantic left Liverpool.  It carried a precious cargo of scientists with many thought to be en route to a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Toronto. Amongst the illustrious collection of distinguished gentlemen scientists was a young woman Kathleen Carpenter M.Sc. from Aberystwyth University just starting her career in freshwater ecology.

The passenger list gives addresses and occupations which were not always specific to their specialist areas.  However in many cases their careers are subsequently recorded in scientific history:

William Alexander Balfour-Browne, Highgate, Zoology Lecturer; diving beetle expert, Cambridge, Queen’s Belfast & Imperial College; later President of the Society of British Entomology; friend of Robert Lloyd Praeger.

Prof. Edward Charles Baly, Liverpool, Professor of Chemistry.

Irving Howard Cameron, London, surgeon; helped to found the medical faculty of Toronto University; founder and editor of the Canadian Journal of Medical Science.

Kathleen Carpenter, Stockton, Tees, scientific investigator; pioneering freshwater ecologist.

Sydney Chapman, Morecambe, professor; mathematician and geophysicist; in 1930 he described the photochemical mechanisms that give rise to the ozone layer.

Rev. Albert Cortie, Stoneyhurst, lecturer; Jesuit priest; astronomer who travelled to Sweden on Solar eclipse expedition of August 1914; prominent member of British Astronomical Association.

Frederick George Donnan, London, University Professor.

Reginald Fisher, Harpenden, statistician; father of modern statistics!

William Godden, Stoneywood, biochemist; livestock dietician, later Deputy Director of Rowett Research Institute.

Dr. Charles Alfred Matley, paleontologist and geologist, worked in India and Wales; later Government Geologist for Jamaica.

Wilfred McLean, University College of Wales, Bangor, lecturer.

Florence Annie Meckeridge, London, lecturer.

Prof. Edward Mellanby discovered vitamin D and the role in preventing rickets.

Sir Max Muspratt and his family, manufacturer, Liverpool; chemist and politician, director of Imperial Chemical Industries, Member of Parliament, Lord Mayor of Liverpool.

Florence Adam Randall, London, lecturer.

Donald Ward Outler, Harpenden, biologist.

Harold James Page, Harpenden, chemist;  chief chemist and head of the Chemical Department at Rothamsted Experimental Station; became director of the Rubber Research Institute of Malaya, and during the Second World War was interned in Sumatra for three and a half years.

Prof. Sidney Hugh Reynolds, Bristol, professor; geologist.

Prof. David “Thorday” Bangor University; plant physiologist.

Prof. William Ernest Turner, chemist and pioneer of scientific glass technology.

Prof. Robert George White, College Farm, Bangor University, animal breeding and farm management; bred an improved Welsh mountain sheep.

Other occupations represented on the ship included teachers, engineers, farmers, factory managers, cooks, accountants, domestic servants, housewives, advertising agent, clerks, fitters, foremen, manufacturers, land owners, telegraphist, draughtsman, golfball maker, nursery governess, veterinary surgeon, merchants, cotton buyer, carpenters, solicitor, insurance agent, school principles, upholsterer and typist.   This cross-section of occupations reflected the wide socio-economic foundation of society at that time and a high degree of global mobility.

Four years later Kathleen Carpenter would publish a book chapter entitled “The Biology of Inland Waters in Relation to Human Life” and discuss the environmental impact of the Industrial Revolution.  Her fellow passengers were players in this Revolution. But at this point in time she was about to spend several days confined to this bubble of scientists, industrialists and wider society, contemplating the next step in her developing career in freshwater ecology.  Did she get advice from any of her fellow passengers?  I think the answer is almost definitely yes. May be she was writing the book chapter?


Kathleen Carpenter – Before Kick-Sampling

Kick sampling is a standard and widely used method for sampling the invertebrates living on the bed of a stream or river. It involves placing a net in the direction of flow, with open net mouth facing upstream.  The biologist kicks the substrate in front of the net for a standard period of time and the dislodged organisms are carried into the net for counting and analysis.

This technique became established in the mid 1970’s, with organisations such as the Institute of Biology and the US Environmental Protection Agency adopting its use.  Today kick-sampling is the accepted standard around the world for collecting comparable samples from stream beds.

However working in the early part of the 1900’s Kathleen Carpenter, a pioneering freshwater ecologist in Wales, carried out an extensive survey of the rivers around Aberystwyth.  It is evident from her papers archived in the National Library of Wales that she was a very thorough fieldworker.  Here is the description of the sampling strategy she developed before kick-sampling.

“The method adopted is as follows: first , as large a number as possible of stones in the bed of the stream are turned over and any Molluscs, Insect-larvae etc. adhering to them are picked off. Next, water is squirted over the surface of the stone into a jar, to wash off any smaller forms.

Samples of mud from the bed and edges of the stream are then taken, and the roots of any submerged vegetation are well scraped with the sharp edge of a collecting- net, to dislodge individuals which may be sheltering among them.

Masses of the weed are brought away, and are subsequently well shaken in water, and, finally, weed, mud and water are looked over carefully with first a hand lens and then a binocular dissecting microscope, lest any small species should escape observation.

A small silken tow-net is also dragged along the surface of the water to collect Copepoda etc.

When all these precautions have been taken, an afternoon’s collecting may yield the harvest of a dozen species – except in one of the richest streams, that is to say! ”

Kathleen Carpenter used these samples to produce simple lists of species and to compare the differences in biodiversity between rivers polluted by metal mine water and more pristine river systems. There is no indication given in her papers that she was assisted in the field so what other practical precautions would a woman pioneering ecologist have to take when contemplating climbing into a stream?   Although after World War One women were able to adopt more practical work clothes, including trousers, we do not know what Kathleen Carpenter wore.  Clearly it would be difficult and potentially dangerous to kick sample in a long skirt!  Our early women aquatic biologists coped with some exceptional social challenges including what to wear.

You are invited to come hear more about the life of Kathleen Carpenter at my International Women’s Day public lecture at Aberystwyth University on the evening of 7th March 2016 – details here.

Carpenter’s Cannibal Salmon




Atlantic Salmon (public domain image)


War loomed large on the front page of the Northern Daily Mail on 1 Sept. 1939. Poland is complaining about being a victim of German aggression and Hitler is making provocative speeches.

The British Association for the Advancement of Science was meeting in Dundee and the anxious committee decided to cancel the remainder of the meeting.   The night trains to London and other parts of the country were simultaneous booked up with all available sleeping accommodation reserved.

Kathleen Carpenter (from Liverpool University) was lucky, because earlier in the day she got to report on one of the first detailed studies of the diet of young salmon (Vol. 110: 81-96, 1940: Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London).  She had examined hundreds of young salmon from the Welsh Dee over a two year period.

Several newspapers ran headlines on the theme of “cannibal salmon” and contained almost identical quotes from Dr. Carpenter:
“The result is to show that the young salmon are wholly opportunists in their feeding, taking greedily any sort of animal food which is available, no matter what its nature and origin.”

“The stomach contents include examples of almost all the invertebrate animals found in the streams, and also such miscellaneous items as a bird’s feather, a mole-flea, ants, spiders and millipedes, many winged insects, portions of the skeletons of fishes, and some unmistakable salmon eggs.”

“The interest of this new record of cannibalism is enhanced by the fact that one parr, which had swallowed five of these eggs, was a prematurely ripe and already spent male, and so may quite possibly have eaten his own offspring.”

The abstract of her scientific paper described the salmon as “indiscriminately carnivorous”- they ate whatever was available at the time.   She considered material from outside the river ecosystem important, especially leaf-eating tree-parasites which fall into the river in the autumn.  For this reason she thought the growth of riparian trees and vegetation desirable. Fish scale readings seemed to correspond to the seasonal cycle in feeding.  In her opinion there is no evidence of loss of appetite at any season but merely variations in opportunity.

This paper was Kathleen Carpenter’s last contribution to the scientific literature.

Three days after the aborted Dundee meeting on the 3rd Sept., Britain declared war of Germany. Presumably Kathleen Carpenter returned safely to Liverpool.  In a review of the pollution of rivers of West Wales in 1944 (which was first documented by Carpenter), Lily Newton remarks in a footnote that a complete set of scientific records were destroyed in enemy action.  There is no acknowledgement of any assistance from Kathleen Carpenter. To add to the mystery Liverpool University archives have no record of Kathleen Carpenter.

You can find out more about Kathleen Carpenter at my International Women’s Day lecture at Aberystwyth University on the evening of 7th March 2016 – details here. If you have any records for her in Liverpool during or after the Second World War please get in touch.