Reference numberMS/934
TitlePapers of Elsie Widdowson and Robert McCance from the Medical Research Council
CreatorWiddowson; Elsie May (1906 - 2000)
Date3 February 1937 - 10 June 2006
DescriptionPapers relating to the nutritionists Elsie Widdowson and Robert McCance, who were both Fellows of the Royal Society. The majority of the material relates to Widdowson, and includes her professional and research papers, correspondence, biographical material, and other notes. The McCance material also contains professional papers and correspondence as well as personal papers. Furthermore, there is significant material relating to Widdowson's work compiling the Royal Society's biographical memoir for McCance after the latter died in 1993.
Extent9 boxes
ArrangementSplit into two series: Elsie Widdowson papers and Robert McCance papers. The Elsie Widdowson papers are split into subseries of professional and research papers, material relating to 'Food in art', general correspondence, papers relating to Robert McCance, biographical and commemorative material, drafts for speeches, publications, and non-scientific papers. The Robert McCance papers are split into subseries of professional papers, personal papers, publications and newspaper extracts.
Access statusOpen
Access conditions2 items within the Widdowson correspondence are closed. Some material, including Widdowson's medals and awards, remains uncatalogued.
Administrative historyElsie Widdowson and Robert McCance first met in 1933 at King's College Hospital, when the former had recently finished her PhD on the carbohydrate content of apples and the latter was conducting research into carbohydrate losses upon cooking a range of foods. The two quickly began working together, and over the next sixty years they forged a famous partnership which saw them become leading figures in the scientific field of nutrition. In 1938, McCance became a Reader of Medicine at the University of Cambridge and, as such, the two moved to Cambridge together to pursue collaberative work. Together they published 'The chemical composition of foods' in 1940 which broke down foods in the British diet into their chemical components. Their work contributed immensely towards the science behind rationing during the Second World War, as they showed through self-experimentation that the human body could survive on limited amounts of certain foods; for example, they favoured white bread over brown bread due to its ability to aid the body with calcium absorption.

The conclusion of the war provided a valuable opportunity for Widdowson and McCance to conduct research on malnourished individuals in Germany. They stayed in Germany for three years, feeding children in orphanages different types of bread and studying the results. McCance also took a particular interest in the survival of people at sea after shipwrecks, given the amount that had died in such circumstances during the war. Once this work was completed, Widdowson and McCance began branching out to other species, measuring changes in composition at different stages of development, including pigs and rats. In the late 1960s McCance spent two years in Uganda, leading the MRC Infantile Malnutrition Research Unit in Kampala, after which he retired and spent the rest of his life in Cambridge. Meanwhile, in 1968 Widdowson became head of the Medical Research Council's Dunn Nutritional Laboratory, where she became involved in analysing the composition of infant milk available across Europe. She attempted to retire in 1973, but quickly became involved with the Department of Investigative Medicine at the University of Cambridge and in 1986 she visited Washington to participate in research into the fat composition of infant seals. She retired once again in 1985, yet still remained active, becoming President of the British Nutrition Foundation from 1986 to 1996. McCance died on 5 March 1993, and Widdowson wrote his biographical memoir for the Royal Society. Having received many awards for her services to science, she then died on 14 June 2000.
Related records in the catalogueS/0057

Papers of Elsie Widdowson and Robert McCance from the Medical Research Council

Fellows associated with this archive
NA5952Widdowson; Elsie May (1906 - 2000)1906 - 2000
NA2085McCance; Robert Alexander (1898 - 1993)1898 - 1993
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