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Pioneering academic’s papers get UNESCO status

Hocken Collections is “delighted” its nomination of one of the first female academics in New Zealand has been accepted to the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.

The register lists inscriptions of significant documentary heritage that contribute to New Zealand’s history and heritage and are significant to the identity of New Zealanders today.

Since 2011, a total of 40 items have been inscribed on the register, and are held at heritage institutions and other organisations in main cities, small towns and private collections.

Dr Muriel Bell at work image
Dr Muriel Bell.

Dr Muriel Bell’s collection of papers, held at Hocken Collections, is one of this year’s five inscriptions accepted to the register from throughout the country.

Dr Bell’s trailblazing research on nutritional deficiencies of vitamins and minerals and her campaigns for the addition of vital nutrients to the average New Zealand diet are remembered by older New Zealanders.

One of the first women medical academic researchers at a time when it was unusual for female medical graduates to pursue a research career, Dr Bell (1898 – 1974) became the second woman to be awarded the research degree of Doctor of Medicine in New Zealand.

She was also the first Nutrition Officer in 1940 in the Department of Health, Director of the Nutrition Research Department, a foundation member of the Medical Research Council, and the sole woman on the Board of Health.

Dr Bell campaigned for the addition of fluoride to public water supplies, free milk in schools, improvements to milk handling and hygiene, the addition of iodine to domestic salt and to improve the nutritional content of bread flour.

Another side of her work was nutritional education, lecturing at the Otago Medical School and in the publication of nutritional advice in pamphlets, magazine articles and radio talks.

Her collection of papers documents the work of a brilliant and energetic early woman medical researcher whose life-long interest in many aspects of nutrition research has improved the health of New Zealanders today.

Hocken Collections Librarian Sharon Dell says this is the Hocken’s seventh inscription and is an indication of the strength and importance of the collection and the research that is generated from it.

“Hocken and the University of Otago are of course delighted to receive this inscription to the New Zealand Memory of the World Register, not least because it draws more attention to the work of one of NZ’s pioneering women scientists who’s made an impact on the lives of New Zealanders for generations,” she says.

Inscriptions from Hocken Collections on the UNESCO Memory of the World New Zealand Register:

  • 2013 Charles Brasch Literary and Personal Papers
  • 2014 Dr Hocken’s Church Missionary Society records
  • 2015 Pickerill Papers on plastic surgery
  • 2016 Lance Richdale Papers
  • 2017 Salmond Anderson Architects Records
  • 2018 Herries Beattie Papers
  • 2019 Dr Muriel Bell Papers

For more information, contact:

Lydia Anderson
Communications Adviser
University of Otago
Tel +64 3 479 8200
Mob +64 21 278 8200
Email l.anderson@otago.ac.nz