Margaret Merrell

Margaret Merrell (December 3, 1900[1] – 21, 1995)[2] was an American biostatistician who taught at Johns Hopkins University for many years[3] and became the first female full professor in the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.[4] She is known for her research with Lowell Reed on the construction of life tables.[3][5] She also observed that, for longitudinal data on individuals, fitting a curve to each individual and then averaging the parameters describing the curve will typically give different results than averaging the data values of the individuals and fitting a single curve to the averaged data.[6]

Merrell was born in La Grange, Illinois.[2] She entered Wellesley College as an honor student from Framingham High School,[7] and became vice-president of the Wellesley mathematics club.[8] She graduated in 1922, and took a position as a schoolteacher in Baltimore.[9] She joined Johns Hopkins as an instructor and graduate student in 1925, and completed her Sc.D. there in 1930.[3] Her dissertation, supervised by Lowell Reed, was The Relationship of Individual Growth to Average Growth.[10]

After completing her doctorate, Merrell remained on the Johns Hopkins faculty.[3] During World War II, she consulted with the U.S. Army on treatments for sexually transmitted diseases and for motion sickness.[9] As a faculty member at Johns Hopkins, she "reportedly carried most of her department's teaching load"[11] and was described as "the intellectual power behind the throne" of the department.[3] She was promoted to full professor in 1957,[4] served as acting chair of biostatistics in 1957–1958, and retired in 1959.[3][4] She died in 1995, in a nursing home in Berlin, New Hampshire.[2]

She was honored by the American Statistical Association in 1951 by election as a fellow of the association.[12]


  1. Cook County, Illinois, Birth Certificates Index, 1871-1922
  2. "Margaret Merrell, 95, of N.H.; retired biostatistics professor", The Boston Globe, December 25, 1995, archived from the original on November 7, 2017
  3. "Margaret Merrell, Faculty Member: 1925–1959", Biostatistics History, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, retrieved 2017-11-06
  4. Thomas, Karen Kruse (2016), Health and Humanity: A History of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 1935–1985, JHU Press, p. 102 (elect.ed.), ISBN 9781421421094
  5. Namboodiri, Krishnan; Suchindran, C. M. (2013), "The Reed–Merrell Method", Life Table Techniques and Their Applications, Studies in Population, Academic Press, pp. 22–23, ISBN 9781483288888
  6. Tanner, James Mourilyan (1981), A History of the Study of Human Growth, Cambridge University Press, p. 342, ISBN 9780521224888
  7. "Honorable Mention Class of 1922", The Wellesley Alumnae Quarterly, 4 (2): 125, January 1920
  8. Wheeler, Mary (November–December 1922), "The Mathematics Club of Wellesley College, Wellesley, Mass.", American Mathematical Monthly: 419
  9. "Margaret Merrell, ScD", Heroes of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, retrieved 2017-11-06
  10. Margaret Merrell at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  11. Rossiter, Margaret W. (1984), "Women Scientists in America: Struggles and Strategies to 1940", Physics Today, Women Scientists in America, JHU Press, 1 (6): 207, Bibcode:1983PhT....36f..65R, doi:10.1063/1.2915710, ISBN 9780801825095
  12. ASA Fellows list, American Statistical Association, retrieved 2017-11-03
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