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Born in Leeds in 1903 to Russian-Jewish emigrants, as a young woman Esther Sinovitch (Simpson from 1933) stood out academically and musically. With a first-class degree from Leeds University, she initially worked as a secretary in Paris, Vienna and Geneva. But when Hitler assumed power in 1933, she took a job in London at the Academic Assistance Council, newly set up to rescue displaced German scholars. Though the job paid a third of her Geneva salary, she had found her life-long calling. Over more than five decades, her work for the Academic Assistance Council and its successor, the Society for the Protection of Science and Learning, ensured refuge for thousands of displaced academics worldwide and had a profound impact on twentieth-century science, philosophy, philology, architecture and art history.


Surprisingly, for a woman who befriended so many and such eminent ‘children’, she has remained a largely unknown historical figure.


This book is a study of Esther Simpson: who she was and how she lived, what moved her to take up and never to relinquish her calling, her impact on the world, and the historical context that helped shape her achievements.

Esther Simpson – Tess to her friends – devoted her life to resettling academic refugees, the most eminent of whom she thought of as her family. By the end of her life, Esther could count among her ‘children’, as she called them, sixteen Nobel Prize winners, eighteen Knights, seventy-four

fellows of the Royal Society and thirty-four fellows of the British Academy. Her ‘children’ also made a major contribution to Allied victory in World War Two.
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