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Fielding, Una Lucy (1888–1969)

by Sally O'Neill

This article was published:

Una Lucy Fielding (1888-1969), neuroanatomist, was born on 20 May 1888 at Wellington, New South Wales, eldest of five surviving children of native-born parents Rev. Sydney Glanville Fielding, Anglican clergyman and author, and his wife Lucy Frances, née Johnson. The family moved to Windsor in 1893. Una attended a small private school there, and from 1900 St Catherine's Clergy Daughters' School, Waverley. An able student, in 1907 she won a bursary to the University of Sydney (B.A., 1910). For some six years she taught French and English as a governess, and at Kelvin College, Neutral Bay, and Ravenswood, Gordon. Determined to study medicine, she returned to university (B.Sc., 1919; M.B., Ch.M., 1922); she worked (1919-23) as a part-time demonstrator in the department of anatomy, resident medical tutor at Women's College and resident medical officer at the Renwick Hospital for Infants.

In July 1923 Una Fielding sailed for England where she became a demonstrator in the department of anatomy at University College, London, headed by (Sir) Grafton Elliot Smith. At first she was not a continuously paid member of staff and 'trimmed hats at nights' to finance her own studies: 'I knew that I must prove myself'. She soon gained a reputation for her superb competence as a teacher of practical neurology and for her encyclopaedic knowledge of the subject. In 1927 she spent a term in the United States of America as demonstrator in neurology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; in 1928-29 she was seconded to the American University of Beirut, Syria (Lebanon), as acting-professor of histology and nervous anatomy. From 1928 she lectured in neurology at U.C.L. As well as teaching pre-clinical medical students, she helped to supervise postgraduates; she also taught anatomy and physiology of the nervous system to psychology undergraduates and elementary physical anthropology to students of archaeology and Egyptology.

A member (from 1923) of the Anatomical Society of Great Britain and Ireland, in 1925 Una Fielding had read her first paper to the society, on the brain of the marsupial mole, Notoryctes. In 1927 and 1928 she published papers on the ovary, with A. B. Parkes and F. W. R. Brambell, but her most notable collaboration was with Professor Gregor Popa. Her observations on the brain of Notoryctes led to the hailed discovery of the vascular link between the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland. She and Popa published their joint findings in medical journals between 1930 and 1935.

On 1 October 1935 Una Fielding was appointed reader in neurological anatomy (neuroanatomy from 1937) at U.C.L. She hoped at last to write a major book on comparative anatomy, but the death in January 1939 of H. H. Woollard, Elliot Smith's successor, and the onset of World War II left her with even heavier teaching responsibilities. As acting-head of the anatomy department she organized the evacuation of all medical students and most staff to a house at Leatherhead, Surrey. In London her detailed drawings and notes for her book were lost in bombing-raids. Colleagues later claimed that her role in holding the medical faculty together was never properly acknowledged. She herself wryly summed up her role as at once 'head of department & anatomical Mrs. Mop, tutorial Mrs. Mop, and often domestic Mrs. Mop'.

Anxious to make a change, she resigned in April 1947 to become assistant-professor of anatomy at the new Farouk 1st University, Alexandria, Egypt. On 31 December 1951 she was dismissed as part of the Egyptian government's action against expatriates; she left Egypt in February 1952, forced to abandon the results of her latest research. In London she returned to teaching as visiting lecturer in neuroanatomy at St Mary's Hospital and St Thomas's Hospital medical schools. In September 1965 she was appointed to the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons to reorganize and summarize Elliot Smith's 1902 catalogue of the nervous system. A member of the British Federation of University Women, she lived at Crosby Hall, Chelsea. She died on 11 August 1969 in hospital at St Pancras.

Brown eyed, and dark haired in youth, Una Fielding was remembered as a tiny woman, always dressed in neat, dark clothing, and wearing a jaunty hat even while lecturing. Friends enjoyed her 'complete unconcern for appearances'. Though never robust, she retained a great zest for life and a lively interest in the modern and topical. She was well versed in literature and the arts, and was a stimulating conversationalist with a great sense of fun. As a teacher she had no problems of discipline: students, whom she treated as fellow scholars, sensed her uncompromising integrity.

Select Bibliography

  • Royal College of Surgeons of England, Annual Report, 1965-66 and Annals, 45, July-Dec 1969
  • British Medical Journal, 30 Aug 1969
  • Lancet, 30 Aug 1969
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 13 Dec 1969
  • Australian Federation of University Women (Sydney), Newsletter, no 32, Dec 1969
  • Journal of Anatomy, 106, no 2, 1970, p 209
  • Times (London), 21 Aug 1969
  • Sydney Morning Herald , 8 Dec 1923, 6 June 1925, 23 Sept 1969
  • U. L. Fielding papers (Royal College of Surgeons of England Library, London)
  • S. G. Fielding papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • University College London Personnel Dept records
  • private information.

Citation details

Sally O'Neill, 'Fielding, Una Lucy (1888–1969)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 1 December 2022.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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