By the middle of the twentieth century, the presence of women in the sciences was becoming more common in Ireland, but it was extremely unusual for them to be heads of academic departments or professors. However, Merrion Street in the 1960s housed three exceptional women professors – Phyllis Clinch (1901–84), Carmel Humphries (1909–86) and Eva Philbin (1914-2005). These three women made significant contributions to teaching and research in their scientific disciplines, both nationally and internationally. They also led their departments in UCD with great distinction through and following the move from Merrion Street to Belfield.
Phyllis Clinch joined the department of plant pathology in UCD as a research assistant in 1929, moved to the botany department in 1949 and in 1961 succeeded Joseph Doyle as professor of botany. A world renowned scientist in the field of plant disease, she is best remembered for her work on potato viruses, which was used by the Department of Agriculture to develop stocks of disease-free potatoes for farmers. She was one of the first four women elected to membership of the Royal Irish Academy (RIA) in 1949. In 1961 she became the first woman to receive the Boyle Medal of the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) - the next was physicist Margaret Murnane fifty years later.
Carmel Humphries graduated from UCD in 1932 with a B.Sc. in botany and zoology and an M.Sc. the following year. After undertaking research in England and Germany, where she made discoveries that had significant impact in insect taxonomy and water quality assessment, she returned to Ireland and after a series of temporary positions was appointed as an assistant in the zoology department at UCD in 1942. She succeeded James Bayley Butler as professor in 1957. A noted researcher in freshwater biology, Carmel Humphries was a popular lecturer with generations of students. She was a member of the RIA, the RDS and the Institute of Biology of Ireland.
Eva Philbin (née Ryder) joined the chemistry department in UCD in 1945 and worked to develop the highly successful research school in natural products chemistry, succeeding T. S. Wheeler as professor in 1963. Students from this school were to prove central to the development of the chemical and pharmaceutical industry in Ireland. Eva Philbin was the first woman president of the Institute of Chemistry of Ireland, chairman of the National Science Council and senior vice-president of the RIA. In 1989 the RIA acknowledged her achievements with a festschrift containing contributions by 115 authors.