Julia Bell graduated in mathematics at Trinity College, Dublin. After six years investigating solar parallax at Cambridge Observatory, she moved to University College, London and obtained a position there as an assistant in statistics. It was her mentor, the mathematician Karl Pearson (1857-1936), one of the founders of modern statistics, who prompted her to change to medicine in 1914. She studied at the London School of Medicine for Women (Royal Free Hospital). She qualified in 1920 and was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1938.
Working as a member of the permanent staff of the Medical Research Council at the Galton Laboratory, University College, Julia Bell did pioneering work in documenting the familial nature of many diseases. She wrote most of the sections in a unique series known as The Treasury of Human Inheritance published between 1909 and 1958, from The Galton Lab. Bell's "combination of mathematical training, genetic knowledge and clinical expertise yielded numerous important insights into human inheritance first appearing in the Treasury," Harper noted. Julia Bell's Treasury of Human Inheritance "remains a valuable scientific as well as an historical record of the genetics of a range of important inherited disorders."
In 1937 Julia Bell published a landmark article with JBS Haldane reporting that there is linkage between the genes for colourblindness and haemophilia on the X chromosome. This discovery was a key step toward the mapping of the human genome.
Julia Bell kept working actively for many years. At age 80 she wrote an original article on rubella and pregnancy. She did not retire until she was 86. She reached the age of 100 years and kept in touch with genetics until her death.
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