Posted by: Ron DuBour | December 5, 2014

American Heroes~Rachel Fuller Brown (1898-1980)~by rldubour

Friday!, time for another American Hero, today we look at a great scientist, she was born in Springfield, Massachusetts!


Rachel Fuller Brown (1898-1980)

Born in Springfield, Massachusetts

In November of ninety-eight.

Her father an insurance agent

Was also in real estate.


Mother was Annie Fuller

Dad was George Hamilton Brown.

Moved to Webster Groves, Missouri

In nineteen-twelve dad had let them down.


With Mother and her younger brother

Returned to Springfield, Mass.

Working as a secretary supporting

Her family was now her task.


A wealthy family friend

Was impressed with her determination.

Paid tuition to Mount Holyoke College

For Rachel’s further education.


She decided to double major

In history and chemistry.

In nineteen hundred and twenty

Rachel earned a B.A. Degree.


Received her Masters and her Doctor

At the University of Chicago.

Taught chemistry and physics

At Frances Shimer School the records show.


Took a job as assistant chemist

For the Health Department in Albany.

They are famous for identifying

Agents for causing human disease.


On a project with her associate

Elizabeth Hazen another authority.

Discovered an antibiotic in helping

To fight infectious disease.


Together they developed the first

Antibiotic against fungal disease in human.

Most important since penicillin

A biomedical breakthrough for both man and woman.


They made thirteen million dollars

From all their royalties.

Both dedicated all their money

For scholarships and research in disease.


AUTHOR NOTES: Rachel Fuller Brown was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, on November 23, 1898, to Annie Fuller and George Hamilton Brown. Her father, a real estate and insurance agent, moved the family to Webster Groves, Missouri, where she attended grammar school. Although Fuller did not take an immediate interest in science, she was fascinated with insects and she collected and studied them. In school, however, Fuller went out of her way to avoid science classes. In 1912 Brown’s father left the family. She and her younger brother returned to Springfield with their mother, who, to support them, worked as a secretary, then as an administrator in several Episcopalian churches. Because of the family’s financial situation, it looked as though Brown’s education would end after high school. But Brown’s hard work and determination impressed Henrietta F. Dexter, a wealthy friend of her grandmother, who decided to fund Brown’s tuition to Mount Holyoke College in nearby South Hadley, Massachusetts. At Mount Holyoke Brown was initially a history major, but she discovered chemistry when fulfilling a science requirement. She decided to double-major in history and chemistry, earning her degree in 1920. She later went to the University of Chicago to complete her master’s degree in organic chemistry. For three years she taught chemistry and physics at the Francis Shimer School near Chicago. With her savings she returned to the university to complete her doctorate degree in organic chemistry, with a minor in bacteriology. She submitted her thesis (a research project required for graduation) in 1926, but there was a delay in arranging her oral examinations, which she needed to complete in order to get her degree. As her funds ran low, Brown was forced to leave Chicago before her exams. She took a job as an assistant chemist at the Division of Laboratories and Research of the New York State Department of Health in Albany, New York. The department was famous for its identifications of several human disease-causing agents. Seven years later, when she returned to Chicago for a scientific meeting, Brown arranged to take her oral examinations and was finally awarded her degree. Brown’s early work at the Department of Health focused on identifying the types of bacteria that caused pneumonia, a disease that causes inflammation of the lungs. Brown helped to develop a pneumonia vaccine (an agent used to fight the disease) still in use today. In 1948 she embarked on the project with her associate Elizabeth Hazen, a leading authority on fungus that would bring them their greatest respect from her peers: the discovery of an antibiotic to fight fungal infections. Penicillin, a groundbreaking antibiotic used to fight a variety of illnesses, had been discovered in 1928, and in the following years antibiotics were increasingly used to fight bacterial illnesses. One side effect, however, was the rapid growth of fungus that could lead to sore mouths or upset stomachs. Other fungal diseases without cures included infections attacking the central nervous system, athlete’s foot (a foot fungus), and ring-worm (a contagious skin disease). Microorganisms (animals or plants of microscopic size) called actinomycetes that lived in soil were known to produce antibiotics. Although some killed fungus, they also proved fatal to test mice. Hazen ultimately narrowed the search down to a microorganism taken from soil near a barn on a friend’s dairy farm in Virginia, later named streptomyces norsei. Brown’s chemical analyses revealed that the microorganism produced two antifungal substances, one of which proved too toxic (deadly) with test animals to pursue for human medical use. The other, however, seemed to have promise—it was not toxic to test animals, and attacked both a fungus that invaded the lungs and central nervous system and candidiasis, an infection of the mouth, lungs, and vagina. In retirement Brown maintained an active community life, and became the first female vestry (administrator) member of her Episcopalian church. By her death on January 14, 1980, she had paid back Henrietta Dexter, the wealthy woman who had made it possible for her to attend college. Perhaps even more significant, she used the royalties (money earned) from nystatin to help create new funds for scientific research and scholarships. Rachel Fuller Brown, with her associate Elizabeth Hazen, developed the first effective antibiotic against fungal disease in humans—the most important biomedical breakthrough since the discovery of penicillin two decades earlier. Nystatin earned more than $13 million in royalties during Brown’s lifetime, which she and Hazen dedicated to scientific research. Born: November 23, 1898 Springfield, Massachusetts
Died: January 14, 1980 Albany, New York American biochemist


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: