Hickmans, Evelyn Marion

Chemist whose contribution to the study of biochemistry and nutrition of children in the early twentieth century was of international importance. Evelyn M. Hickmans was born on 9 April 1882 to Mary Elizabeth Hickmans nee Parsons (1850-1922) and David Hickmans (1856-1928) in Coseley, a mining village, in the Staffordshire Black Country. Her father was an elementary school master who moved the family to Codsall, Staffordshire, and started a milk contracting business. Going into partnership with a member of the Trinity Wesleyan Church, Wolverhampton. the business grew and became known as Hickmans and Mould, Wolverhampton. Son Wilfred Hickmans joined the business as a milk steriliser and later became the Company secretary and director. The family became members and officers of the Penn Road, Wesleyan Chapel, Wolverhampton. On 21 May 1925 Evelyn M Hickmans laid one of the foundation stones of Beckminster Wesleyan Sunday School. Evelyn remained a member of the Methodist Church until she died and was a benefactor of the Trinity Methodist Church, Compton Road, Wolverhampton.

After receiving her early schooling probably from her father and the local schools in Coseley and Codsall, in her late teens Evelyn attended evening classes at the Wolverhampton and Staffordshire Science and Technical School in Garrick Street and in 1902 she was awarded the high accolade of ‘Chief Student’. As a result of the excellence of her matriculation subjects mathematics and chemistry she was awarded the Mander scholarship (£24 per annum) to attend Birmingham University. She was awarded a B Sc in science and chemistry in 1905 and a M Sc the following year. Even though she had her degrees and her work on the isomeric forms of methyl esters of mandelic acid published she could not find work. In 1908 she went to King’s College London to study household science which led her to investigate nutrition. The outcome of this study led to her being invited to help establish the new Department of Household Science at Toronto University. WW1 intervened and she could not take up her post as lecturer in applied chemistry and dietetics until 1920. Her time at the university was cut short by her mother’s illness and untimely death. Although she was invited back to the university she remained in England. Evelyn’s cousin and fellow Wesleyan Dr Leonard Parsons (later knighted for medical research) was the paediatrician at the Birmingham Children’s Hospital where he was researching child wasting disorders. He asked Evelyn to join him and to establish chemical tests on children. Her reputation grew and in 1925 was invited to give a lecture at the influential Annual Conference for the Teachers of Domestic Science in Bath. Her presentation was based on her research into the diets of undernourished infants. This research was rewarded by Birmingham University with a PhD. Her ground breaking work led to the founding on 15 December 1949 of the Midlands Association of Clinical Biochemists with Evelyn as the first chairman. Evelyn was a leading advocate of the national Association which was formed in 1953. In 1951 a 2 year old child called Sheila Jones was diagnosed with a rare and untreatable inherited condition Phenylketonuria (PKU) Her distressed and tenacious mother Mary would not accept that there was no treatment and put pressure of Evelyn and her team to find a remedy. Evelyn with a visiting German doctor, Dr Horst Bickel along with Dr John Gerrard showed that the disease was treatable. Sheila Jones was the first child to receive dietary treatment for PKU and lived until 1999. Evelyn’s work led to world-wide interest in the prevention of other forms of mental retardation and the world wide introduction of the screening of new-born children. Hickmans, Bickel and Gerrard were awarded the highly regarded international ‘John Scott Award’ from Philadelphia in 1962. Dr Hickmans was a Soroptimist. She was also a founder member of the Association of University Women - Wolverhampton Evelyn died on 16 January 1972 and Trinity Methodist Church, Wolverhampton was filled for her funeral.

  • Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette 23 May 1925
  • Staffordshire Advertiser 30 May 1925
  • Liverpool Echo 15 November 1962
  • Royal Society of Chemistry Historical Group Newsletter No 80 Summer 2021
  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evelyn_Hickmans accessed 10 March 2021
  • The Times.1972 No. 58391. p. 16

Entry written by: DHR
Category: Person
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