Protecting Milk Supplies

Alice Evans was born in 1881 in Pennsylvania. She was initially educated at home and then in a one-room school house. She and her brother both survived scarlet fever. After graduating from college, she became a teacher because no other jobs were available to women. After four years of teaching, she became bored, she was able to obtain a scholarship to study bacteriology, a new science, at Cornell. She then obtained a master’s in bacteriology but didn’t attempt to obtain a Ph.D. because of limited finances.

She began her career with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Wisconsin 4refining the processes for making cheese and butter. She also examined the bacterial contamination in milk products. She was later transferred to Washington DC.

Alice became interested in a microbe that was infecting cattle and was found in cow’s milk. She became an advocate for the pasteurization of milk, to prevent undulant fever in humans. Her research results were disputed by the scientific community because of her gender and lack of a Ph.D. She abandoned her work knowing that in time, she would be validated.

Three years later, a male bacteriologist confirmed her study. Other researchers confirmed her work as well. One prominent scientist continued to disparage her work. The skepticism of one prominent scientist delayed the passage of milk pasteurization laws for more than a decade.

Alice, herself became infected with undulant fever from her work in the lab. Her health was impaired for twenty years, but she continued to work. In 1928, she became the first woman to be elected president of the Society of American Bacteriologists.

Alice retired in 1945 and began to devote time to advocating for women to pursue scientific careers. She passed away at the age of 94.

Hidden heroes have to be courageous to go against the beliefs of the establishment. It’s remarkable that science, where ideas should flourish, is often the most resistant to ideas of those who don’t come with accepted pedigrees.

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“The gentle hunter, having pursued and tamed her quarry, crossed over to a new home.” – Inscription on the tombstone of Alice Evans

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