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Dorothy Mary Cayley (1874-1955): Mycologist

Dorothy Cayley was born in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) where her father was Chief Justice, and came to England at the age of seven. She was educated at Stamford High School and then in Germany, where she studied music. Later she matriculated at London University, studying science for a time before moving to University College, Reading to take the two-year Diploma in Horticulture, becoming a Horticultural Associate in 1908.

She found herself especially interested in plant diseases and soils. While at Reading she entered the Board of Education’s examination in Horticulture, gaining first-class honours and a medal. Her viva was taken by Sir A. Daniel Hall (JIHI Director, 1926-39), then Director of Rothamsted Experimental Station. She also took a first class in the Royal Horticultural Society examination. She was appointed Superintendent of the gardens belonging to the Botanical Department at Reading. 

In 1910 Dorothy came to work at the John Innes Horticultural Institution as a volunteer worker. She started work in an attic of the Manor House before the laboratories were built. Bateson offered her a Minor Studentship in 1911 at £50 p.a., rising to £150 by 1915. Between 1914 and 1918 Dorothy did varied war work, from cutting bracken in Savernake Forest for Army horse bedding, to tool setting for Vicker’s aeroplane factory. She resigned from her Minor Studentship in 1916 and for the last 18 months of the War assisted the Royal Army Medical investigations on Tetanus at the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine in London. Dorothy returned to JIHI in 1919 and was appointed as a Student (at £200 p.a.); later that year she was given the title ‘Mycologist’ (at £250 p.a., rising to £350 two years later).

She was a founder member of the Genetical Society in 1919.  During her early years at JIHI (1911-17) Dorothy worked on the diseases of peas and fruit. Between 1920 and 1930 she worked on the life history of ‘die-back’ fungus, Diaporthe pernicisiosa. With Bateson’s encouragement she introduced the study of the genetics of fungi into Britain. Dorothy was particularly interested in the Mycetozoa (slime moulds) and would sit up all night watching their growth and development under the microscope. She conducted fundamental investigations into the physiology and the inheritance of sex in fungi, and during the 1930s carried out experiments on mushroom composts. She published on these subjects and on a variety of plant diseases; identifying the various diseases brought into the laboratory was a regular part of her duties at JIHI.

In the horticultural world she is chiefly remembered for her discovery (1927) that ‘breaking’ in tulips is due to a virus. By 1929 Dorothy had achieved Deputy Director status at the Institution, taking charge of ‘indoor matters’ when the Director (A. D. Hall) was absent. In addition to her science, she was an able artist, taking her drawing board on fungus forays and her paints on holidays. The John Innes Archives contain many of her cartoons. Dorothy retired in 1938. She was Vice President of the British Mycological Society in 1939.

See also:
Rosemary D. Harvey, ‘Bateson’s Ladies’ , unpublished typescript in JIC archives, 1996.

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