Smithsonian's Women in Science uploads, pt. 1

Mar 05 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

For the third March in a row, the Smithsonian Institution is marking Women's History Month with a trove of uploads to their Flickr Commons account, all images of "Women in Science," from their Science Service archives.  The images are all no-known-copyright, and they're great glimpses of women's work in laboratories and classrooms from the 1920s through the 1960s.  They're also a crowdsourcing opportunity--many of the women in the photographs have names, but beyond that, their life stories and accomplishments could use some more details.  Feel moved to start a Wikipedia entry for one of them?  Good, because many don't have one yet.

These two women in the recent batch of uploads do have Wikipedia entries, for very good reason:
Elizabeth Lee Hazen (1888-1975) and Rachel Brown (1898-1980)

[Visual description:  Two white-haired white women, in labcoats, at a gleaming lab table; one is standing and holding a glass flask; one is seated with a microscope in front of her]

Meet Elizabeth Lee Hazen and Rachel Fuller Brown, the inventors of nystatin, the first practical antifungal medication, used to treat oral thrush, vaginal yeast, jock itch, athlete's foot, ringworm, and other common fungal infections.  Nystatin has even been used to treat Dutch Elm disease, and to limit mold growth on works of art in a flood zone.  Elizabeth Hazen went from being a tiny orphan in Mississippi to a earning a PhD in microbiology in 1927 at Columbia University.   Rachel Fuller Brown was living with her mother in Massachusetts, and had little chance of college, until her grandmother's rich friend offered to cover her costs to attend Mount Holyoke.  Brown turned in a doctoral thesis at the University of Chicago in 1926, but didn't complete the other requirements for the PhD until 1933.

Hazen and Brown were both working for the New York Department of Health when they started the project to develop an antifungal, Hazen in New York City and Brown at a lab in Albany.  They sent their cultures and samples back and forth in mason jars, in the mail.  "Nystatin," which the women introduced in 1950, is named in honor of New York State Division of Laboratories and Research.   (Twisted Bacteria's post from International Women's Day 2008 covers the science and has lots of links.)

Neither woman chose to profit from the invention; instead, their royalties (over $13 million) went toward the Brown-Hazen Research Fund, to support biomedical research.  The photo above is from 1955, when the pair were awarded the first Squibb Award in Chemotherapy.

Their joint papers are at Harvard University, in the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America.  There's also a collection of Rachel Brown's papers at Mount Holyoke.  The New York State Department of Health, Wadsworth Center, hosts a Brown-Hazen Award Lecture series.

One response so far