Distinguished Women of Past and Present

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Alice Catherine Evans

(1881-1975)

Alice Catherine Evans, the first woman scientist to have a permanent appointment in the U.S. Dairy Division of the Bureau of Animal Industry, was born on January 29, 1881 in Neath, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. She attended Susquehanna Collegiate Institute in Towanda, Pennsylvania from 1898 to 1901. In 1909 she received a B.S. degree in bacteriology from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York and an M.S. degree in the same field from the University of Wisconsin in Madison in 1910. She did more graduate work at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and at the University of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois.

In 1910 Evans started working in the Dairy Division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the field of bacteriology of milk and cheese. In 1913 her appointment was made permanent. She demonstrated in 1917 that raw milk could transmit a bacterium, Bacillus abortus, which caused disease in cattle and in humans. Evans contracted this disease, brucellosis (undulant fever), herself and suffered from it for seven years. She advocated pasteurization of milk to effectively kill this disease-causing bacterium. Her findings and recommendations were not taken seriously by other scientists, partly because she was a woman and she had no Ph.D. degree. She encountered great deal of difficulty convincing physicians, public health officials, veterinarians and farmers that pasteurization was needed to halt the spread of this disease. Eventually she succeeded and in the 1930's pasteurization of milk became mandatory in the U.S. dairy industry.

In 1928 she became the first woman president of the Society of American Bacteriologists (now the American Society for Microbiology). From 1925 to 1931 she was a member of a Committe on Infectious Abortion. In 1930 she was a delegate to the International Microbiological Congress in Paris, France. In 1934 the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania awarded her an honorary degree in medicine and in 1936 she received honorary doctorate of science degrees from the University of Wisconsin and from Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. From 1945 to 1957 she was an honorary president of the Inter-American Committee on Brucellosis. In 1975 she became an honorary member of the American Society for Microbiology.
Alice Evans died September 5, 1975 in Alexandria, Virginia.

Contributed by Danuta Bois, 1996

Bibliography:
1. The Book of Women's Firsts: Breakthrough Achievements of Almost 1,000 American Women by Phyllis J. Read and Bernard L. Witlieb, Random House, 1992
2. American Women's History by Doris Weatherford, Prentice Hall General Reference, 1994
3. Women's World: A Timeline of Women in History by Irene M. Franck and David M. Brownstone, HarperCollins Publishers, 1995

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