Born in America in 1884 to avid travelers Fanny Bullock Workman (a trailblazing mountaineer who trekked and cycled across Eurasia in skirts-seriously, check her out) and William Hunter Workman, Rachel Workman followed in her parents’ adventurous footsteps by studying glacial geomorphology in Scotland and Sweden. There appears to be some discrepancy in dates from sources, but she seems to have started her career at the University of London (Royal Holloway), where she earned her degree in Geology in 1902. She apparently spent some time at the University of Edinburgh and went on to do her postgraduate research at Imperial College, London. In 1911 her first academic paper, “Calcite as a Primary Constituent of Igneous Rocks,” was published in Geological Magazine. She published a number of other papers, illustrating her findings in petrology and mineralogy, based on fieldwork in Scotland and Sweden. She became Rachel Workman MacRobert when she married Sir Alexander MacRobert, also in 1911.
As an avid and active geologist, she was friends and colleagues with trowelblazers Catherine Raisin as well as Maria Ogilvie Gordon, with whom she also collaborated. She attended the International Geological Congress both in Stockholm in 1910 and in Toronto in 1913. Apparently also in 1913, she attended the Annual General Meeting of the Royal Geological Society, writing “An attempt was made to eject me. The Secretary rushed up and said I was not a fellow, so I explained this was through no fault of mine but the Society’s and waved him aside and marched in…They need not try any tricks with me because I am a woman, I have always gone to the Annual Meetings and intend to do so if in London!” (Millington 1972 in Lewis and Knell 2009). It would be a few more years before she would be admitted to the Society as a Fellow in the first group of 8 women in 1919.
Though now she is best known as the foundress of the MacRobert Trust and as a staunch supporter of the RAF after the death of her three pilot sons in civil and wartime service, funding the purchase of a bomber named “MacRobert’s Reply”, her contributions to geology-and her participation in the academic research networks of the time-should not be overlooked.
Images kindly provided by and used with permission from The MacRobert Trust.