Women Leading the Way

Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey, an advocate who has been called a heroine, died in August at age 101. She joins a list of activist women who have made the world a better place. Match the following women, all of whom have been inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame, with her accomplishment:

____ 1. Her book Silent Spring, an expose on the dangers of pesticides, led to the ban of DDT.
____ 2. Her patents and refrigerated cars enabled people to safely eat many foods.
____ 3. As a medical officer at the Food and Drug Administration, she blocked the approval of the drug thalidomide which was causing significant birth defects in babies born in Europe and around the world.
____ 4. An advocate for women's education, she established a school that today is Mount Holyoke College.
____ 5. She developed the first water quality standards in the U.S.

A. Mary Lyon
B. Ellen Henrietta Swallow Richards
C. Mary Engle Pennington
D. Frances Oldham Kelsey
E. Rachel Carson

The founder of what is today known as Mount Holyoke College (the first women's college), Mary Lyon is revered for her motto "Go where no one else will go, do what no one else will do." In 1837, Lyon founded the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary to educate young women when few options were available for women, particularly options that provided education equal to that provided for male students. Having attended school until she was 13 and starting to teach when she was 17, Lyon ensured that women at Mount Holyoke learned math and science, including chemistry, and that they helped with the chores to keep tuition low. She led the way for the establishment of other colleges for women including Wellesley and Smith.

A pioneering sanitary engineer and the founder of the field of home economics, Ellen Henrietta Swallow Richards entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1870 as a special student (women weren't yet admitted and MIT didn't want to have to admit that a woman had been enrolled). After her graduation, Richards established a Women's Laboratory at MIT and worked as an instructor without pay. Her study of the water quality in Massachusetts led to the establishment of the first water quality standards in the U.S. and the first modern sewage treatment plant. A founder of the field of home economics, Richards was one of the founders of what is today the American Association of University Women (AAUW).

Denied her earned bachelor's degree from the University of Pennsylvania due to her gender, Mary Engle Pennington nevertheless pursued additional education, received her Ph.D., and became known as a food safety pioneer. Her research led to cold storage, refrigerated rail cars, and safe handling of many foods as did her patents, particularly for fish, poultry, eggs, and milk. Known around Philadelphia as the ice lady, she encouraged vendors to keep their food on ice to protect it and the customers.

Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey was a new medical officer at the Food and Drug Administration in 1960 when the application for approval of the drug thalidomide, which was sold as an anti-nausea drug to treat morning sickness, was submitted. Kelsey wanted more information and more information she got. Reports of birth defects were mounting for women who had used the drug in Europe and overseas and she was adamant about not approving it. Vilified by the drug companies, Kelsey stuck to her guns and thalidomide was not approved, thereby averting what could have been a tragedy.

Biologist and zoologist Rachel Carson worked for the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries and eventually became the editor-in-chief of all U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service publications. Her early books made her famous as a scientist and naturalist and she left employment with the federal government in 1952. Her bestseller and call-to-arms was her 1962 book Silent Spring, exposing the dangers of the pesticide DDT and leading to a ban. Carson is often credited with triggering the events that led to the first Earth Day in 1970.

Learn about more she-roes and celebrate amazing women. All of these activists are profiled in the book Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America. We celebrate their contributions and salute their advocacy and activism.

(Answers 1-E, 2-C, 3-D, 4-A, 5-B )