Gladys Trim

Gladys Trim (1915-?)  started work in the Veterinary Department at the Wellcome Laboratories aged 15. Initially, she was not doing technical work but helping other women in the office with the filing and other tasks. Her salary was just 15 shillings per week, a low wage but vital to her mother who had been widowed during the 1914–18 war.

Aged 21, six years after starting at Wellcome, she began her technical career working for a female PhD student, Miss Brown. Gladys said of this move, “in those days if anyone got married, girls didn’t stay at work, so I took the place of someone who was leaving.” Gladys helped Miss Brown prepare sera to test diphtheria toxins. The more she learned from scientists and other technicians, the more technical her work became. She began running tests and experiments for the senior staff until she became a skilled technician.

As the work became more technical she started to carry out more hazardous activities. Things didn’t always go according to plan. When still working for Miss Brown she accidentally set fire to a blackout curtain when working late on night. She told an interviewer in 2000, “We used to take it in turns to come back late in the night, or evening, cycling up a long tree-lined drive without lights.” She said, “We had to extract part of the solution that we wanted with ether… I had got a water bath going with the yeast growing in it… there must have been a bit of a leak which I hadn’t detected, but it went whoosh and up went the curtains.” Gladys’ description of her response is very phlegmatic. She told the interviewer that she rescued the situation by grabbing, “all the towels, the tea towels and things, and put it out, and that was it, carried on, finished that.”

M. Sterne, Gladys Trim November 1970, Journal of Medical Microbiology 3: 649-654
Title and abstract from article, M. Sterne, Gladys Trim, Journal of Medical Microbiology 3: 649-654 (1970)

Gladys ended up working at the Wellcome Laboratories for more than 42 years until she retired in 1972 to care for her mother; by that time she had been promoted to senior technician. The promotion in itself was controversial. Her gender and lack of formal training meant there was opposition to her being promoted so she had to pretend to she was being paid weekly like the other women, rather than monthly like all the men.

Gladys had her name included on various publications during her time at the Wellcome Laboratories (see References section below).

Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any further information about Gladys’ life. If you know anything else please let me know.

References and further reading

I have taken the majority of the information about Gladys Trim from a 2015 academic article by Hartley and Tansey (see below). The quotes from the interview of Ms Gladys Trim by P. V. Lear, 5 July 2000 are taken form this piece. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find an image of Gladys Trim.

  • J. M. Hartley and E. M. Tansey, White coats and no trousers: Narrating the experiences of technicians in medical laboratories, 1930-90, Notes Records (2015) 69, 25–36.

The articles Gladys was included on are:

  • M. Sterne, Gladys Trim, Enhancement Of The Potency Of Typhoid Vaccines With Calcium Alginate, Journal of Medical Microbiology 3: 649-654 (1970)
  • M. STERNE, GLADYS TRIM, Assay of Typhoid Vaccines in Mice, Journal of Medical Microbiology 7: 197-203 (1974)
  • M. Sterne, Gladys Trim, E. S. Broughton, Immunisation Of Laboratory Animals And Cattle With Non-Agglutinogenic Extracts Of Brucella Abortus Strain, Journal of Medical Microbiology 4: 185-194 (1971)

Tansey has written other interesting articles about technicians; I have included a few more references for interest:

  • E.M. Tansey, Keeping the culture alive: the laboratory technician in mid-twentieth century British medical research, Notes Rec. R. Soc. (2008) 62, 77–95.
  • N. C. Russell, E. M. Tansey and P. V. Lear, ‘Missing links in the history and practice of science: teams, technicians and technical work’, Hist. Sci. 38, 237–241 (2000).

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