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18 November 2021

Elke Mackenzie (1911 - 1990) lichenologist

Elke Mackenzie was born in London and raised in Scotland, and was given the name Ivan Mackenzie Lamb. Lamb did a B.Sc. in Botany at Edinburgh University and, with a scholarship from the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst, did further research at the universities of Munich and Würzburg. 

Lamb was employed as an assistant keeper at the British Museum in 1935, and was mentored by the recently retired pioneering lichenologist Annie Lorrain Smith who had worked in the museum’s cryptogamic herbarium 1892-1933, but who had to be paid from a special fund because officially the museum did not employ women. Lamb became especially interested in the lichen flora of the Antarctic, as it was comparatively unknown, and began studying early British, French, and Belgian Antarctic collections in Turku, Finland and Paris. While in Finland Lamb met and married a Finnish woman. Their first child was born in London during the Blitz, and Lamb was granted the degree of Doctor of Science from Edinburgh University in 1942 with a monographic thesis dealing with the hypothesis of the previous movement of the continents of the southern hemisphere based on studies of the Antarctic lichen flora. 

Lamb took a leave of absence from the British Museum in 1943 to join Operation Tabarin, a secret Antarctic expedition organized by the Admiralty on behalf of the Colonial Office to assert British sovereignty in the Antarctic Peninsula and the Falkland Islands Dependencies against Chilean and Argentinian claims, and against possible German naval actions. Lamb served in Antarctica from 1944 to 1946 as a cryptogamic botanist, but he assisted in the construction of bases at Port Lockroy and Hope Bay, which involved person-hauling and dog-sledging 800 miles.

Andrew Taylor in his account of the years in the Antarctic writes: 

“Dr. I. Mackenzie Lamb … in my opinion, possessed the best scientific mind of any of us. Subsequent events probably threw me into closer contact with Lamb than any other individual in our party. A diligent worker as well as a modest and courteous gentleman, he was one of the most unselfish characters I have ever met. It was a privilege to know him so well. Possessing a humour that at times approached elfishness, he was a most sincere and earnest person. Both logical and imaginative, he possessed a realism that did not allow any histrionics or dramatics to warp his steady judgment.” (p24)

Taylor comments on Lamb’s scientific studies, done in addition to the other duties at the base. 

“To most people, for example, the study of the botany of such a region would seem a most uninspiring prospect. To Lamb, a specialist in the study of mosses and lichens, it was an exciting challenge. All can recognize the moss that carpets the forests and climbs up the bases of the trunks of the trees in temperate regions. Perhaps few of us have noticed the lichen—or we pay scant attention to it. Prior to my meeting Lamb, I confess that I never more than casually noticed them, (p113) …Lamb’s diligence and persistence rewarded him with a large collection of lichens gathered from the various localities we visited on Wiencke Island, as well as those collected in the course of his ecological studies of Goudier Islet. Many of the species he collected were new to the Graham Land area, others were new to the Antarctic, and he found a few which were new to science. In addition, he highly prized a few blades of grass that he discovered in a crevice between the rocks of the rookery. His interest also included mosses as well as a variety of marine algae and flora. These specimens were not easily found, but one is amazed at the diversity and luxuriance of some of the growths that the cold rock-faces of the country support. (p114)”

In 1947 Lamb, with wife and child, took a teaching position at the Instituto Miguel Lillo at the Universidad Nacional de Tucumán in northwest Argentina. Lamb built up a collection of lichens, adding Argentinian and Brazilian specimens to those from Antarctica. One field trip ended in disaster when on returning via a mountain pass the wind was so intense that the strings came untied and the new specimens and their annotations were scattered over the mountain. 

In 1950 Lamb was offered a position as cryptogamic botanist at the National Museum in Ottawa. Perhaps because of the cost of moving it from Argentina, Lamb sold the herbarium (3,200 specimens with annotations) to the Museum, and either sold or donated an annotated library on the subject. 

Lamb left Ottawa on short notice in 1953 when  offered the Directorship of the Farlow Library and Herbarium at Harvard University. Unfortunately the Farlow had been inoperative for some time, there was no staff, not even janitorial, and there was a large backlog of unanswered correspondence. However the collection did include 1,400,000 specimens, including approximately 75,000 types, of lichenized and non-lichenized fungi, bryophytes, diatoms and algae. Mrs Lamb helped out with work at the Farlow. Lamb directed the Farlow Library and Herbarium for almost twenty years, extending an interest to algae and marine phycology as well as lichens, and trained in scuba diving for a return to the Antarctic to obtain marine specimens.

In the 1960s the Lambs experienced family and personal crises possibly resulting from feelings of gender incongruence. Mrs Lamb ran up debts in her husband’s name. Lamb started living in the Farlow, and at one point was taken to the University Infirmary with a stay of three weeks. Afterwards Lamb obtained a legal separation from Mrs Lamb. A psychiatrist advised a consultation with “a specialist in New York City in resolving a torment that left him uncomfortable with his gender” (presumably Harry Benjamin).

This was during the final stages of the Antarctic project. Lamb decided on transition, and also dropped her surname, taking her middle name, Mackenzie as her new surname and Elke as her personal name. She applied for a legal name change, new social security number and passport. Publications by Lamb started to acknowledge the technical assistance of Miss Elke Mackenzie. Elke also joined a theatre troupe directed by Laurence Senelick, the historian of theatre and drag performance.

Harvard arranged sabbatical leave in 1971 followed by a total disability retirement (Elke was only 60). Mackenzie turned to translating German botanical text books into English, and for some years lived in Costa Rica, building a house there. She returned to Boston in 1980, living for a while with her daughter. She took up carpentry and started to make furniture. However in 1983 she experienced weaknesses in her legs and was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). She died age 78.

Laurence Senelick’s The Changing Room, sex, drag and theatre has the following dedication: 

“This book is dedicated to Elke Mackenzie, whose transformation taught many who enjoyed transvestism on stage to appreciate transsexualism in life”.

Mackenzie’s original surname was assigned to two genera, Lambia and Lambiella, and several species.

The list of species includes:

Buellia lambii

Neuropogon lambii

Parmelia lambii

Placopsis lambii

Verrucaria mackenzie-lambii

The name was also assigned to Cape Lamb on Vega Island, close to the most northerly point in Antarctica.


Note: Cryptogams are algae, lichens, fungi, mosses, and ferns. They differ from trees and plants in not having flowers or seeds. Their reproductive apparatus is hidden.

Some comments on other accounts:

Turku, Finland is not Turkey. Mrs Lamb was Finnish.

Lamb/Mackenzie could not be “diagnosed” with “gender dysphoria’ before 1971, because Norman Fisk did not propose the term until 1973. She was probably told she was Transsexual.

Surely “Disfonia Syndrome” is a misprint.

While Lamb met and was influenced by Annie Lorrain Smith, she did not direct or supervise him, as she retired in 1932 (age 77) and Lamb did not start at the British Museum until 1935.

There is no Instituto Lilloa in Tucamán or anywhere else. There is there the Instituto Miguel Lillo, and its journal is named Lilloa, to which Lamb frequently contributed.

After transition Mackenzie continued publishing as I M Lamb (for consistency).   Where she is referenced on other lichenologists' work it is as I M Lamb.   WorldCat has changed her name to Elke Mackenzie in its catalogue, but not of course in the actual publications.   Any lichenologist reading up on her work needs to know both names.  

Many trans persons retain the same surname.   The decision to change it is in addition to transitioning.  To refer to her as Mackenzie is ironically to use one of her male first names.


Publications by Lamb/Mackenzie:

  • “Lichenological notes from the British Museum herbarium.-I”. Journal of Botany74, 1936.
  • “Lichenological notes from the British Museum herbarium.-II”. Journal of Botany76, 1938.
  • “A new cephalodiate Lecidea from Japan”. Journal of Japanese Botany14,1938.
  • “Lichenological notes from the British Museum herbarium.--III “.Journal of Botany 77, 1939.
  • “What is Lecidea pringlei Tuckerman?”. The Bryologist, 42, 1939.
  • “A review of the genus Neuropogon (Nees & Flot.) Nyl., with special reference to the antarctic species”. Journal of the Linnaean Society of London, Botany52, 1939.
  • “Lichens from east Greenland collected by the Wager Expedition, 1935-36”. Nyt Magazin for Naturvidenskaberne 1940.
  • “The lichen genus Placopsis in Tristan da Cunha. Results of the Norwegian Scientific Expedition to Tristan da Cunha, 1937-1938”, 3, 1940. Norske videnskaps-akademi, Oslo.
  • “Lichenological notes from the British Museum herbarium.-IV. Rhizocarpon sect. Catocarpon in the British Isles”. Journal of Botany 78, 1940.
  • “Lichenological notes from the British Museum herbarium.--V”. Journal of Botany 79, 1941.
  • “A lichenological excursion to the west of Scotland”. Transactions of the Botanical Society, Edinburgh33, 1942.
  • “A monograph of the lichen genus Placopsis”. Lilloa13:1947.
  • “Further data on the genus Neuropogon”. Lilloa 14, 1948.
  • "New, Rare or Interesting Lichens from the Southern Hemisphere". Lilloa 14,1948.
  • “Antarctic pyrenocarp lichens”. Discovery Reports25, 1948.
  • “La importanciade los liquenes como indicadores fitogeographicos en el hemisferio austral”. Lilloa 20, 1949.
  • “On the morphology, phylogeny, and taxonomy of the lichen genus Stereocaulon”.Canadian Journal of Botany, 29, 1951.
  • “Biochemistry in the taxonomy of lichens”. Nature, 168, 1951.
  • “New, rare or interesting lichens from the southern hemisphere. II.” Lilloa, 26, 1953.
  • “Lichens of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia” Annual Report of the National Museum of Canada, Bulletin, 132, 1954.
  • “Studiesin frutescent Lecideaceae (lichenized discomycetes)”. Rhodora, 56, 1954.
  • “New lichens from northern Patagonia, with notes on some related species”. Farlowia, 4, 1955.
  • “Codex Lichenum”. Taxon, 5, 1956.
  • “Compsocladium, a new genus of lichenized ascomycetes”. Lloydia 19, 1956.
  • “Symbiosis: Part II. The remarkable lichens”. Natural History,47, 1958.
  • “La vegetaci6n liquénica de los Parques Nacionales Patag6nicos”. Anales de Parques Nacionales, 7, 1959.
  • “Lichens”. Scientific American,201(4), 1959
  • “Two new species of Stereocaulon occurring in Scandinavia”. Botaniska Notiser 114, 1961.
  • with Alexander Zahlbruckner. Index nominum lichenum inter annos 1932 et 1960 divulgatorum. Ronald Press Co, 1963.
  • "Antarctic Lichens. I. The Genera Usnea, Ramalina, Himantormia, Alectoria, Cornicularia". British Antarctic Survey Scientific Reports,38, 1964.
  • “The Stereocaulon massartianum assemblage in East Asia”. Journal of Japanese Botany,40, 1965.
  • “Die Gattung Stereocaulon, Lichenes, Stereocaulaceae. (Flechten des Himalaya 3)”. Khumba Himal: Ergebnisse des Forschungsunternehmens Nepal Himalaya 1,
  • Chemotaxonomy in the lichens. International Lichenological Newsletter 1(3), 1967.
  • with A. Henssen. “The Genera Buellia and Rinodina”. Antarctic lichens, 2.; Scientific reports (British Antarctic Survey),61, 1968.
  • “The species of Stereocaulon with protosacculate cephalodia”. Journal of Japanese Botany,43, 1968.
  • Antarctic terrestrial plants and their ecology, pp. 733-751. In M. W. Holdgate (ed.), Antarctic Ecology, 1970.
  • “Stereocaulon arenarium (Sav.) a hitherto overlooked boreal-arctic lichen”. Occasional Papers of the Farlow Herbarium of Cryptogamic Botany2, 1972.
  • With W. A. Weber, H. M. Jahns& S. Huneck. “Calathaspis, a new genus of the lichen family Cladoniaceae”. Occasional Papers of the Farlow Herbarium of Cryptogamic Botany4: 1972.
  • Stereocaulon Sterile (Sav) and Stereocaulon Groenlandicum (Dahl) Two More Hitherto Overlooked Lichen Species.Harvard, 1973.
  • “Further observations on Verrucaria serpuloides the only known permanently submerged marine lichen”. Occasional Papers of the Farlow Herbarium of Cryptogamic Botany6, 1973.
  • “The lichen genus Argopsis”. Fr. Journal of the Hattori Botanical Laboratory, 38, 1974.
  • With A. Ward. “A preliminary conspectus of the species attributed to the imperfect lichen genus Leprocaulon”. Journal of the Hattori Botanical Laboratory, 38, 1974.
  • With S Huneck. “I'-Chloropannarin, a new depsidone from Argopsis friesiana: notes on the structure of pannarinand on the chemistry of the lichen genus Argopsis”. Phytochemistry, 14, 1975.
  • With D J Galloway & G C Bratt. “Two new species of Stereocaulon from New Zealand and Tasmania”. . Lichenologist, 8, 1976.
  • “Structurally unusual types of cephalodia in the lichen genus Stereocaulon (subgen. Holostelidium)”. Journal of Japanese Botany51, 1976.
  • “A conspectus of the lichen genus Stereocaulon (Schreb.) Hoffm”. Journal of the Hattori Botanical Laboratory, 43, 1977.
  • “Keys to the species of the lichen genus Stereocaulon (Schreb.) Hoffin”. Journal of the Hattori Botanical Laboratory44, 1978.
  • edited by S. Haddelsey & R. Lewis-Smith, The Secret South: A Tale of Operation Tabarin, 1943–46. Greenhill Books, 2018.

By Others:

  • David James. That Frozen Land.The Falcon Press, 1949.
  • Andrew Taylor, . “Dr. Ivan Mackenzie Lamb.” Polar Record26, 159, 1990: 343.
  • Geirge A Llano. “I. Mackenzie Lamb, D.Sc. (Elke Mackenzie) (1911-1990)”. The Bryologist,94, 1991.
  • Vernon Ahmadjian. “Obituary: Ivan Mackenzie Lamb (Elke Mackenzie) (1911-1990)” Lichenologist, 23,1,1991.
  • “Lamb, Ivan Mackenzie (1911-1990)”. JSTOR Global Plants. Online.
  • Geoffrey C Ainsworth edited by John Webster & David Moore. "Lamb (ivan Mackenzie (Elke Mackenzie Lamb)" Brief Biographies of British Mycologists.  British Mycological Society, 1996. Online.
  • Laurence Senelick. “Dedication”. The Changing Room: sex drag and theatre. Routledge, 2000.
  • Andrew Taylor edited by Daniel Heidt & Whitney Lackenbauer. Two Years Below the Horn: Operation Tabarin, Field Science and Antarctic Sovereignty, 1944-1946.Universiy of Manitoba Press, 2017.
  • Sabrina Imbler. “The Unsung Heroine of Lichenology”. JSTOR Daily,Sepember 26, 2020. Online.
  • Isabel Douglas. “LGBT History Month: Elke Mackenzie”. Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, February 1, 2021. Online.

Wikipedia(Elke Mackenzie)

Wikipedia(Operation Tabarin)

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