Alice Ball

Alice Ball was the pharmaceutical chemist who developed a medical treatment for Leprosy, giving hope to millions.  Leprosy is a dreaded disease.  It has been around since biblical times.  It is disfiguring and it filled its sufferers with hopelessness.  In the US people with Leprosy were forcibly removed from their homes and detained indefinitely in remote colonies.  Thanks to Alice’s treatment, many of them were released from the detention centres and allowed to go home to their families.

Alice was born in 1892 in Seattle, Washington to Laura and James P. Ball Jr.  She was the grand-daughter of J.P. Ball, the famous daguerreotype photographer.  Alice attended the University of Washington and graduated with two degrees in pharmaceutical chemistry in 1912 and pharmacy in 1914.  In the fall of 1914 she attended the College (later the University) of Hawaii as a graduate student in chemistry.  On June 1, 1915, she became the first African American and the first woman to graduate with a Master of Science degree in chemistry from the University of Hawaii.  She was also the first woman to teach chemistry at the institution.

Impressed with her chemistry work, US Public Health Officer, Dr. Harry Hollmann, an assistant surgeon at Kalihi Hospital in Hawaii asked Alice to help him to develop a method to isolate the active chemical compounds in chaulmoogra oil.   For centuries, Indian and Chinese health practitioners had limited success in using the oil to treat Leprosy.  The oil could be applied topically but it wouldn’t be able to penetrate deep enough into the body and as a result, people with the disease had some relief but the injections were difficult and patients described them as “burning like fire through the skin”.  Through her research, Alice found a successful treatment for those suffering from the disease.   She created the first water soluble injectable treatment, something that researchers had been unable to do.

Sadly, she didn’t live to see her treatment being used.  During her research, Alice had become ill.  When she returned to Seattle, she died at the age of 24.  The cause of her death is unknown although it is speculated that she inhaled chlorine gas during her teaching lab work.

Dr. Arthur L. Dean, the chairman of the Chemistry Department at the University of Hawaii continued the research, refining it and using it to successfully treat many patients at Kalaupapa, a special hospital for Hansen disease patients.  Dean published the findings without giving any credit to Ball, and renamed the technique the Dean Method, until Hollmann spoke out about this.  He went on record saying, “After a great amount of experimental work, Miss Ball solved the problem for me…(this preparation is known as)….the Ball Method.”

The “Ball Method” continued to be the most effective method of treatment for Leprosy until the 1940s when a cure for the disease was found.  Yet, as recent as 1999, a medical journal noted that the “Ball Method” was still being used to treat patients in remote areas.  In 2000, the University of Hawaii acknowledged Alice as one of its most distinguished graduates after researchers, notably Stanley Ali and Kathryn Takara.  They discovered in the archives the critical contribution Alice had made.   Alice was honoured with a Chaulmoogra tree planted on the campus and the Governor of Hawaii declaring February 29th Alice Ball Day.  She also received the University’s Medal of distinction.

Notes to Women is proud to celebrate and recognize Alice Ball whose research and ground-breaking scientific achievements went unnoticed by the University of Hawaii for almost a decade.  We honour this remarkable young woman who departed from the world too soon.  She left behind a legacy of hope for those who suffered from Leprosy by starting the fight against the disease and inspiring others to relentlessly hunt for more treatments until they found a cure.

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Alice Ball2

Sources:  Women Rock Science; Black Past; Wikipedia; Clutch Mag Online

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Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman was an escaped slave who became a leading abolitionist.  She led hundreds of slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad.

Notes to Women salute this brave woman who suffered hardship and physical violence. When she crossed into the free state of Pennsylvania, she was overwhelmed with relief and awe.  Of this experience, she said, “When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person.  There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven.”

This taste of freedom was something that she wanted others to experience.   So, instead of staying there in the North where it was safe, she made it her mission to rescue her family and others who were still living in slavery.  She earned the nickname “Moses” for leading others to freedom.

Harriet made history as the first woman to lead an armed expedition in the war, guiding the Combahee River Raid which liberated more than 700 slaves in South Carolina.   She was named one of the most famous civilians in American History before the Civil War, third only to Betsy Ross and Paul Revere. Today, she continues to be an inspiration to generations of Americans who are still struggling for civil rights.

I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.

I would fight for my liberty so long as my strength lasted, and if the time came for me to go, the Lord would let them take me.

I had crossed the line. I was free; but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom. I was a stranger in a strange land.

I had reasoned this out in my mind, there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other.

I grew up like a neglected weed – ignorant of liberty, having no experience of it.

I said to de Lord, ‘I’m goin’ to hold steady on to you, an’ I know you’ll see me through.’

Twasn’t me, ’twas the Lord! I always told Him, ‘I trust to you. I don’t know where to go or what to do, but I expect You to lead me,’ an’ He always did.

 

Sources:  Biography; Brainy Quote

Bessie Coleman

Bessie Coleman was one of 13 children to Susan and George Coleman, sharecroppers.  The family lived in a one-room cabin in Atlanta, Texas.  When she was two years old, Bessie’s father left the family in search of better opportunities in Oklahoma.  Bessie’s mother did her best to support the family until the children were old enough to contribute.  When Bessie’s older brothers went to work, she took care of her two younger sisters.  She became the family leader, reading to her sisters and mother at night.  Bessie promised her mother that she was going to “amount to something.”

Bessie began attending school when she was six and had to walk four miles every day to her segregated one-room school.  There she loved to read and had the distinction as an outstanding Math student.  The school closed whenever the students were needed in the fields to help their families harvest cotton.

Bessie attended Langston University, known then as Oklahoma Colored Agricultural and Normal University.  She was able to complete one term before she ran out of money.  She returned home.  At 23 she moved to Chicago where she lived with her brothers.  It was when she was working at the White Sox Barber Shop as a manicurist that her interest in aviation was kindled.  She heard stories about flying during the war from pilots returning home from World War I.  American flight schools did not admit black women and one of the pilots was willing to teach her how to fly.

Determined to earn her pilot license and encouraged by Robert S. Abbott, founder and publisher of the Chicago Defender, Bessie went to France after taking a French language course at Berlitz School in Chicago.  In France, she learned how to fly in a Nieuport Type 82 biplane and on June 15, 1921 she became the first African American and Native American to earn both an aviation pilot’s license and an international license from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale.  For the next two months, Bessie took lessons from a French ace pilot near Paris to polish her skills.  When she returned to the United States she became a media sensation.

She specialized in stunt flying and parachuting.  She earned a living barnstorming and performing aerial tricks.  In 1922 she made her first appearance in an American airshow.  It was an event honoring veterans of an all-black 369th Infantry Regiment of World War I.  She was billed as “the world’s greatest woman flier.”

It was Bessie’s dream to establish a school for young black aviators but she didn’t live to fulfill it.  On April 30, 1926, Bessie was killed in an accident while preparing for an airshow.  She was only 34 years old.

Bessie Coleman remains a pioneer of women in the field of aviation.  “Because of Bessie Coleman,” wrote Lieutenant William J. Powell in Black Wings 1934, dedicated to Coleman, “we have overcome that which was worse than racial barriers.  We have overcome the barriers within ourselves and dared to dream.”  Lieutenant Powell served in a segregated unit during World War I and pushed for black aviation in his book, journals and through the Bessie Coleman Aero Club which he founded in 1929.

Notes to Women is pleased to honor this remarkable woman who broke down gender and race barriers by daring to dream big.  She kept her promise to her mother.  She did “amount to something”.

The air is the only place free from prejudice.

I refused to take no for an answer.

You’ve never lived till you’ve flown!

I decided blacks should not have to experience the difficulties I had faced, so I decided to open a flying school and teach other black women to fly.

 

Bessie Coleman painting

Sources:  Biography; Notable Biographies; Wikipedia; Brainy Quote

Sojourner Truth

Empowered by her religious faith, the former slave worked tirelessly for many years to transform national attitudes and institutions. According to Nell Painter, Princeton professor and Truth biographer, “No other woman who had gone through the ordeal of slavery managed to survive with sufficient strength, poise and self-confidence to become a public presence over the long term.”
(Painter, Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol, page 4)

In celebration of Black History Month, Notes to Women salutes Sojourner Truth, a devout Christian, abolitionist and Women’s Rights activist.  She was reputed to be the most famous African American woman in America in the 19th century.

For over forty years she traveled around the country, passionately and forcefully speaking for the abolition of slavery, women’s rights and suffrage, the rights of freedmen, temperance, prison reform and the termination of capital punishment.  She changed her name from Isabella to Sojourner Truth, a seeker after truth, becoming a traveling itinerant preacher so that she could tell the truth and crusade against injustice.  She was not intimidated by convention or authority.  She was known for her sense of humour which she used to squash self-righteousness.  She once derided some of the women social activists who wore frivolous clothing, saying to them, “What kind of reformers be you, with goose-wings on your heads, as if you were going to fly, and dressed in such ridiculous fashion, talking about reform and women’s rights?” (Narrative, Book of Life, p.243).

She made her most famous address, Ain’t I a Woman at a Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio where she asserted that women deserved equal rights with men because they were as equally as capable as men.  She testified, “I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and moved, and can any man do more than that?”  She concluded her speech saying, “And how came Jesus into the world?  Through God who created Him and the woman who bore Him.  Man, where was your part?” (Anti-Slavery Bugle, June, 1851).

Watch this video of this remarkable woman.

We celebrate the “world’s oldest lecturer” who, as a woman of faith could not keep silent when those created in God’s image were denied their human rights and equality.  Her memory lives on in the many local memorials and tributes established in her honor in Battle Creek.  In 1997, a year long celebration marked the 200th anniversary of Sojourner’s birth.  One day was not enough to celebrate this special lady.  She has left behind a legacy survival, strength, courage and the passion to transform attitudes and and institutions.  She inspires us to speak out against injustice, inequality and oppression and to stand up for truth and to act instead of talk.

If women want any rights more than they’s got, why don’t they just take them, and not be talking about it.

Truth is powerful and it prevails.

Religion without humanity is very poor human stuff.

“Does not God love colored children as well as white children? And did not the same Savior die to save the one as well as the other?” (Sabbath School Convention, Battle Creek, June 1863)

Sources: YouTube;  Sojourner Truth; Brainy Quotes