University of Minnesota

Margaret D. Crawford, MD

1913 — 1973

Margaret Crawford was a pioneer in CVD epidemiology, working in the MRC Social Medicine Unit of Jeremy Morris at the London Hospital. She received her MB degree from Glasgow University in 1935 and her MD in 1941. In charge of the research department at the Royal Maternity Hospital during WWII, she became reputed for her enthusiasm for facts over untested speculations and for her reliable work, making early contributions to understanding eclampsia.

Her researches were interrupted for some years by bringing up a family of five children, but when she returned to work in the MRC unit she began studies of ischemic heart disease, establishing the correlation between the softness of drinking water and the incidence of cardiovascular disease. A colleague in these studies, Fiona Stanley, described some confounders: “Her interest was in the dramatic differences in CV mortality including sudden death between hard and soft water areas (hard was good; soft was bad). The difficulty was that the areas with hard water were also the areas of higher social class and the soft areas were more disadvantaged.” Shaper et al. were asked to continue to explore the water hardness thesis on the retirement of Jerry Morris, and did so in the British Regional Heart Study, concluding that the relation, compared to other nutritional influences, probably had no public health consequence for heart disease.

Later Crawford wrote on the possible importance of lead dissolved in water that had been standing in the supply pipes overnight. She was halfway through this work when she became ill and died (with a malignancy but due to an arrhythmia). Her obituarist described her unique personality thusly: “She had a rather diffident manner which concealed her great intellectual abilities, but when she was following a clue to a scientific problem she would sparkle with enthusiasm. Despite the maturity of her mind she retained a youthfulness of spirit which was particularly charming.”(HB)


G. Shaper and Fiona Stanley

BMJ obit. June 16, 1973.