There are a lot of women in history who did tremendous work, only for a man to receive all the credit for it.
One of those women was Alice Ball, a remarkable chemist who created the first effective treatment for leprosy. Although her work was overlooked after her death, her story is being recirculated to give her the credit she deserves.
Alice was born in Washington in 1892. Both her parents were photographers, and her father was also a lawyer. When she was 10, Alice and her family moved to Hawaii, and she quickly earned a reputation for being an amazing student at school.
For college, Alice attended the University of Washington, where she earned two bachelor’s degrees, one in pharmaceutical chemistry in 1912 and another in the science of pharmacy in 1914. Then, she moved back to Hawaii and earned her master’s degree in chemistry at the College of Hawaii, now known as the University of Hawaii.
When Alice received her master’s, she became the first Black woman to receive her master’s degree at the school. Then, she began working there as the school’s first Black female chemistry instructor.
While working in the chemical lab, Alice experimented with and researched the Hawaiian’ awa root, also known as kava. She began discovering how it could be used to treat certain ailments and be injected as a form of treatment.
When physician and U.S. Public Health Officer Harry T. Hollman noticed Alice’s work, together they researched chaulmoogra tree oil in 1915, seeing if it could be made into an injected medicine that could be used to treat leprosy, the infectious skin disease. Leprosy was a big issue in Hawaii, as it was often stigmatized and led to the tragic exiling of many residents.
In 1915, when she was 23, Alice figured out how to make the oil from the chaulmoogra tree, a medicine that could be injected and absorbed by a person’s body, using a clever method that chemically modified compounds from the oil.
Tragically, a year later, Alice fell ill while conducting research, which some believe was due to chlorine poison from a lab demonstration gone wrong. She returned to Washington for treatment but sadly passed away at the young age of 24 in 1916.