Monday, June 11, 2018

Book find : Quack tracking

Alma Levant Hayden, shown in her lab at the National Institutes of
Health. She later worked for the FDA. (NIH photo.)
WOMEN SCIENTISTS WERE A RARITY in the middle of the last century. We were happy to run across an interesting article in the Washington Post from last summer about Alma Levant Hayden, a researcher in the 1950s and 1960s for the Food and Drug Administration. She was a rarity in a number of ways in the world of federal scientists back then : a woman and an African American in the rarefied world of cancer research. And it leads us to some scientific women at MSMU in the 1940s and 1950s doing the same thing.

The Post article is here.

An old book on our library bookshelves turned up last week called 'Krebiozen' : The Great Cancer Mystery and we thought we'd find out what we could about it. Google led us to Hayden, who is known for having unmasked in 1963 this cancer "cure" that despite its developers' credentials proved to be a much more mundane substance. The 1955 book tells the story of a scientific debate that led to congressional hearings, Wall Street investigations and, ultimately, which brought down a university president.

Strangely, the book has a place in Mount history, which circles us back to pioneering women scientists.

MSMC's Cancer Department students in 1949, from left:
Mildred Lerch, Clara Wong, Estelle Zehngebot, Barbara
Golen, Kathleen Regan, Pauline Chang, Dolores Bowler
and Virginia Debley. (MSMU Archives photo.)
In the late 1940s and early 1950s the Mount was home to a groundbreaking research department dedicated to the study of cancer, which was becoming a national priority. Not just unusual because all the students were women (and diverse), the Cancer Department was considered at the time to be the first in the world. You can read about the department's work here.

Furthermore, the Mount had already made history in the 1940s by graduating highly trained women lab technicians at a time of a serious shortage of expertise caused by World War II.  So sought after were the Mount's science graduates that the federal government allowed scarce building materials to be deployed to construct St. Joseph Hall in 1944, because it would expand the number of science labs and thus the number of graduates.

We love how one little book can evoke an interesting era in the history of scientific research and women in science. It's a chance, too, to remember their unsung role in the 75-year (and counting) battle against what remains a dreaded disease.

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