Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Born on this Day Almost Invisible

Developer of most effective leprosy treatment of the early 20th century

24 July 2022

Almost Invisible

Past social and economic pressures made it nearly impossible for women to be artists. Virginia Woolf concluded that poems signed 'anonymous' were probably written by women. In science, contributions of women and ethnic minorities have also been erased from history. Alice Ball, born on this day in 1892, was nearly forgotten. Although she died aged 24, she had a remarkable career. Likely the first Black American to publish in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, she was the first woman to earn a master’s from the University of Hawaii. Most importantly, Ball developed an injectable form of an extract from chaulmoogra tree (pictured) seeds – making it the most effective leprosy treatment for two decades. After her death, the president of the College of Hawaii claimed Ball’s research as his own. Fortunately, historians rediscovered Ball’s story in the 1970s and restored her credit. But how many more brilliant scientists have been pushed to the margins of history?

Written by Henry Stennett

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