Notable Scientists: Those Overlooked

Written by GeekGirlCon staffer Adrienne Roerich. This post originally appeared at Double X Science.

During the first two years of this series, I looked for women who had already been honored in some way for their work in science. Unfortunately, this means that a significant portion of excellent scientists are further missed. Because the point of this series is to highlight scientists, I hope to show more of these overlooked scientists.

Ruby Hirose

Ruby Hirose.
Image source: the Smithsonian.

Ruby Hirose (1904–1960) was a biochemist and bacteriologist who developed vaccines against infantile paralysis. She received recognition from the American Chemical Society in 1940, along with nine other women for her work. A Japanese-American, Dr. Hirose received her Ph.D. from the University of Cincinnati. During World War II, her family who resided in Washington state, were imprisoned in internment camps. Dr. Hirose avoided imprisonment due to working in the state of Ohio as a chemist, far from an American coast.

Alice Ball (1892 – 1916) was a chemist working to treat leprosy. After dying at age 24 due to ill health and unknown causes, her work was assumed by a senior male colleague and her discovery credited to him for decades while she remained forgotten. Born in Seattle, Washington, she moved to Oahu, Hawaii with her family in the early 1900s, then returned to Seattle after elementary school. She received her B.S. in pharmaceutical chemistry from the University of Washington. Breaking a number of firsts, she became the College of Hawaii’s (later the University of Hawaii) first graduate student, which is even more notable due to her status as a black woman. She continued with firsts as the first black student and black woman to receive a Masters degree from that institution. She continued on as a professor there, becoming the first black chemistry professor at any school.

Alice Ball

Alice Ball, 1915.
Image source: University of Hawaii (public domain).

As previously mentioned, the University of Hawaii president Dr. Arthur Lyman Dean continued her work, which consisted of taking chaulmoogra oil and injecting it into sufferers of leprosy or Hansen disease, relieving the symptoms. It wasn’t a cure, but at the time, the relief from the nervous systems was a major breakthrough. Her method was known as the “Ball method” until Dean took over and it became the “Dean Method”. These contributions were so significant, Dean has a hall named after him at the University of Hawaii. This method of treatment was used regularly until the 1940s and even in 1999 was cited as being used in remote areas. The story of this remarkable woman was pieced together by a few individuals and is worth tracking down the stories to learn more. Ball’s awards are posthumous and consist of “Alice Ball Day” established in 2000 and celebrated in Hawaii on February 29 and the University of Hawaii Board of Regents Medal of Distinction awarded in 2007.

Marie Maynard Daly (1981 – 2003) was a passionate chemist fighting racial and gender bias to keep her father’s chemistry passion alive. Born in Queens, New York, she was encouraged at her all-female high school to pursue her love of chemistry. She received her Bachelor’s degree with magna cum laude honors in 1942 from Queens College in Flushing, New York. She accepted a fellowship to complete a Master’s program at New York University while working as a laboratory assistant at Queens College, finishing the degree in one year. She continued on in her studies at Columbia University with funding and working with Mary Caldwell, completing her Ph.D. in three years. She graduated in 1947 as the first black woman in the United States to receive a Ph.D. in chemistry.

Dr. Daly had a varied career. After graduation, she went on to teach at Howard University, then to work in molecular biology at the Rockefellar Institute in New York City, then she taught biochemistry at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, and finally became a professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 1960, remaining there until her retirement in 1986. It was only after this last transition that she married. She was on the board of directors for the New York Academy of Sciences. Dr. Daly was committed to increasing enrollment of minority students in medical school and graduate programs. After her retirement, she established a scholarship at Queens College for this in honor of her father.

Kalpana Chawla

Kalpana Chawla.
Image source: NASA (public domain).

Kalpana Chawla (1961 – 2003) was a part of the space shuttle Columbia crew, which disintegrated upon re-entry in February 2003. Born in Karnal, India, Dr. Chawla received her B.S. in aeronautical engineering from Punjab Engineering College in 1982. She immigrated to the United States and became a naturalized Citizen while attending the University of Texas and earning her M.S. in 1984 and her Ph.D. from the University of Colorado in 1988, both in aerospace engineering.Upon graduation, she began work at NASA’s Ames Research Center. In 1994, Dr. Chawla was selected as an astronaut candidate. She became the first Indian born woman in space when she took her first space flight in November 1997. She perished with the other six members of the Columbia crew. Chawla was  posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, the NASA Space Flight Medal, and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal.

Ruth Ella Moore (1903 – 1994) worked on tuberculosis for her graduate work in the 1930s. Born in Columbus, Ohio, she studied at Ohio State University, receiving all three of her degrees, B.S. in 1926,  M.A. in 1927, and Ph.D. in 1933 all in the field of bacteriology. She is widely ascribed as the first black woman to receive a Ph.D. in a natural science in the United States. While working on her dissertation, Dr. Moore also taught at Tennessee State College (later Tennessee State University). There are gaps in Dr. Moore’s personnel record, but she is known to take an assistant professor position in 1940 at Howard University Medical College, and chaired the bacteriology department for a time that is disputed, as either five years in the mid-1950s or more than a decade starting in 1947. She did step down from the position prior to 1960, but is noted to have continued her professor-responsibilities teaching and performing research until retiring in the early 1970s.

Adrienne Roehrich
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