Amalia Fleming

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Amalia Fleming
Personal details
Born28 June 1912
Constantinople, Ottoman Empire
Died26 February 1986
Athens, Greece

Amalia Fleming, Lady Fleming, née Koutsouri-Vourekas (Greek: Αμαλία Κουτσούρη-Φλέμινγκ; 28 June 1912 – 26 February 1986) was a Greek physician, bacteriologist, human rights activist and politician.

Early life and education[edit]

Fleming was born in Constantinople, Ottoman Empire (now Istanbul, Turkey) in 1912. Her father was Harikios Koutsouris, a physician.[1] In 1914, with the outbreak of the First World War and the rise of the "racially intolerant Pan-Turkish state",[2] with the family home lost and her father's laboratory confiscated, she fled to Athens with her family.

She studied medicine, and particularly bacteriology, at the University of Athens. From 1938 to 1944 she worked as a bacteriologist at Athens City Hospital. She married Manoli Vourekas, an architect.[3]

Second World War[edit]

In April 1941 Greece was occupied by the Axis German and Italian forces. Amalia and her husband joined the Greek Resistance. She helped many British, New Zealand and Greek soldiers escape occupied Greece, transcribed BBC broadcasts, and produced fake identity cards for Greek Jews and foreign officers.

She was arrested and jailed for her activities by the Italians. She feigned appendicitis as she knew she would be moved to the prison hospital from which it would be easier to escape. Following her appendix operation, she was instead handed over the Gestapo and sentenced to death. In 1944 she was rescued from prison by British troops during the Allied advance into Greece.


With the end of the war, Greece was in ruins and many thousands dead. In 1947 the Greek Civil War broke out between Communist-led fighters and Greek government army of conservative royalists. Amalia and her husband divorced.

By good fortune in 1947 she was successful in her application for a British Council scholarship which enabled her to do postgraduate studies in bacteriology at St. Mary's Hospital, London. There she worked with Sir Alexander Fleming in his Wright-Fleming Institute of Microbiology. She impressed Fleming and his staff by her research (she authored "nine research publications between May 1947 and August 1952")[4] and she "collaborated with him on several papers".[1]

She married Sir Alexander Fleming in 1953 after the death of his first wife, but with his death in March 1955 she was widowed less than two years later. In the years that followed she chose to return to a life of scientific research.

Regime of the Colonels[edit]

As a person with dual nationality (Greek and British), Amalia Fleming began from 1962 to spend more time in Greece and moved there permanently in 1967. Her return coincided with a military coup and the subsequent rule of Greece by the Greek military junta of 1967–1974 (commonly known as the Regime of the Colonels).

She undertook humanitarian efforts on behalf of members of the opposition who had been arrested and often tortured by the regime and of their family members left in poverty after the arrests.

She was arrested in 1971 and sentenced to sixteen months in prison for plotting the escape from jail of Alexandros Panagoulis who had been convicted of attempting to assassinate Georgios Papadopoulos, the head of the military junta. She was released from prison less than a month later due to health problems but was stripped of her Greek citizenship and deported to Britain.[5][6]

Over the following few years in London, she mounted, in conjunction with Melina Mercouri and Helen Vlachos, a "non-stop publicity campaign"[7] against the Greek dictatorship until it finally collapsed in 1974. Fleming also made representations to the Human Rights Commission in Strasbourg regarding the torture of Greek political prisoners, continued to help imprisoned regime opponents and their families,[8] and helped a number of the junta's opponents to escape from Greece.

Political activities after 1974[edit]

Fleming returned to Greece in 1974 after the fall of the junta. She joined the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (or PASOK) and was elected to the Greek Parliament in 1977, 1981 and 1985. She was an active campaigner for human rights and was a member of the European Commission of Human Rights and the first chair of the Greek committee of Amnesty International.

Later life[edit]

Fleming lived in a single room flat with a number of cats on whom she doted. She died in 1986.


Amalia Fleming Hospital (Νοσοκομείο Αμαλία Φλέμινγκ), Athens

Fleming saw herself as a Greek patriot and a defender of democracy and independence, stating: "I was born a Greek and this is an incurable disease that nothing and no one can treat or change".[9] After her death, the Greek government lamented her loss and praised her as "a great humanitarian, a fine democrat and a fighter for the Socialist cause".[10]

She established the Greek Foundation for Basic Biological Research "Alexander Fleming" and "created the conditions to set up" the Biomedical Sciences Research Centre "Alexander Fleming" (often referred to as BSRC "Alexander Fleming" and the Alexander Fleming Biomedical Sciences Research Center),[11] in Vari, a suburb of Athens.

In 1986 a hospital was founded at Melissia, a suburb of Athens, and named after her (currently known as Sismanogleio-Amalia Fleming General Hospital).[12][13]


  • Greek Royal Order of Welfare[14]



  1. ^ a b "Obituary: Lady Fleming: Greek Patriot and Politician," The Times, 27 February 1986, p. 14.
  2. ^ John Haag, Fleming, Amalia (1912–1986), Retrieved 8 April 2020.
  3. ^ Women in History - F, Retrieved 8 April 2020.
  4. ^ Summary of: Joudeh B. Freij and Bishara J. Freij, "Chapter 11 : Lady Amalia Fleming: Turbulence and Triumph", in: Rachel J. Whittaker and Hazel A. Barton, eds., Women in Microbiology, American Society for Microbiology, 2018. Retrieved 9 April 2020.
  5. ^ Paul Anastasi, "Lady Fleming Dies in Athens: Foe of Nazis and Army Junta", The New York Times, 27 February 1986. Retrieved 9 April 2020.
  6. ^ Lady Fleming, "In the hands of the Colonels", The Guardian, 28 November 1971, pp. 25 and 27, and 5 December 1971, pp. 27 and 29.
  7. ^ RICHARD CLOGG (17 October 1995). "Obituary: Helen Vlachos". The Independent. Retrieved 15 March 2013.
  8. ^ Judy Klemesrud, "In Exile, Lady Fleming Helps Greek Families", The New York Times, 8 December 1971. Retrieved 9 April 2020.
  9. ^ The Exiles, BBC Two England, 14 September 1973. Retrieved 9 April 2020.
  10. ^ "Amalia Fleming, Greek patriot", The Sydney Morning Herald, 28 February 1986, p. 15.
  11. ^ The Fleming Museum of Contemporary Science, Retrieved 9 April 2020.
  12. ^ "Information-History". Γενικό Νοσοκομείο Αττικης "Σισμανόγλειο- Αμαλία Φλέμινγκ " (in Greek). Retrieved 13 May 2014.
  13. ^ Amalia Fleming – Prefecture General Hospital of Athens - Ministry of Health, Retrieved 9 April 2020.
  14. ^ Women in History - F, Retrieved 8 April 2020.
  15. ^ Campbell Page, "Bearing Witness", The Guardian, 23 November 1972.

External links[edit]