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WoW Blog (Woman of the Week) Blog

WoW Blog (Woman of the Week)

Each week this blog will feature a prominent woman who made significant contributions to engineering or science. If you have any women you'd like us to feature please let us know and we'll do our best to include them.

Do you know of a great woman in engineering that should be recognized? Let us know! Submit a few paragraphs about that person and we'll add her to the blog. Please provide a citation for the material that you submit so that we can verify it. Please note - it has to be original material. We cannot publish copywritten material or bulk text taken from books or other sites (including Wikipedia).

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Woman of the Week – Alice Ball

Posted June 05, 2017 4:30 PM by lmno24

Alice Augusta Ball was a young scientist whose work has upheld her legacy, as she died very young. She was a chemist who developed an oil extract, which served as the most effective known treatment of leprosy until the 1940s. She is also known for having been the first woman and the first African-American to earn a Master's degree from the University of Hawaii.

She was born on July 24, 1892, in Seattle, Washington, to James Presley and Laura Louise (Howard) Ball. Her father was a newspaper editor, photographer, and a lawyer. Her grandfather, James Ball Sr., was a famous photographer and was one of the first African Americans in the United States to learn to daguerreotype.

Ball attended Seattle High School and received top grades in the sciences. She graduated from Seattle High School in 1910.

Ball went on to study chemistry at the University of Washington, and in four years she earned bachelor's degrees in both pharmaceutical chemistry and pharmacy. In the fall of 1914, she entered the College of Hawaii (now the University of Hawaii) as a graduate student in chemistry. During the 1914-1915 academic year, she also became the first woman to teach chemistry at the institution.

Ball’s major adviser assigned her a research project involving the effect of chaulmoogra oil on patients with Hansen disease, known more commonly as leprosy. Her research developed a successful treatment for those suffering from the disease.

However, while she was conducting the research, she became very sick. She worked under extreme pressure to produce injectable chaulmoogra oil and, according to some observers, became exhausted in the process. Ball returned to Seattle and died at the age of 24. According to her obituary, she suffered injuries from inhaling chlorine gas during a class demonstration in Honolulu. Some sources say the circumstances around her death were mysterious for a time, but now it is likely determined to have been from the chlorine.

The chairman of the Chemistry Department at the University of Hawaii continued refining the research after Ball’s death, treating many patients successfully at Kalaupapa, a special hospital for Hansen disease patients. The “Ball method” continued to be the most effective method of treatment until the 1940s and as late as 1999 one medical journal indicated the “Ball Method” was still being used to treat Hansen disease patients in remote areas.

During her brief lifetime, Ball never received the acknowledgement from the medical world for her groundbreaking work. After her death, the chairman of the University of Hawaii Chemistry Department received recognition. Over time, however, researchers began to learn of Ball’s crucial contribution. In 2000, the University of Hawaii acknowledged Alice A. Ball as one of its most distinguished graduates.


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