Women & Science Portrait Initiative
Rockefeller has long been a leader in promoting the careers of women scientists, and we take great pride in this role. Our groundbreaking Women & Science program has helped to support and recruit women scientists and faculty for nearly 25 years, and the university has become recognized around the world for our cadre of exceptional women scientific leaders.
However, while the university is home to 35 portraits of male scientist who have contributed to our distinguished history, there is not a single portrait of a woman scientist on our entire campus.
Over the past year, the university’s Women & Science Initiative and Women in Science at Rockefeller have come together in what is now called the Women & Science Portrait Initiative. The purpose of this partnership was to commission the portrait of an historic woman scientist from Rockefeller.
Brooklyn-based artist Brenda Zlamany, who painted a portrait of Yale’s first seven women Ph.D. students that hangs in the university’s Sterling Library, has been commissioned for this project. In the spirit of the Yale portrait, we have decided to commission a portrait of not one but five pioneering women scientists from Rockefeller University: Drs. Marie Daly, Rebecca Lancefield, Louise Pearce, Gertrude Perlmann, and Florence Sabin. Each of these women held significant tenures at Rockefeller or went on to have careers at other institutions after training at the university. All were among the first women in their fields. Once completed, this portrait will be installed prominently above the fireplace in the lounge of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Hall.
Support the Portrait Initiative
We invite you to be part of this project by making a gift to the Portrait Initiative in honor of a woman who has influenced your life. You might wish to recognize a mentor, collaborator, family member, or other woman who has inspired you in your career or your life. This is an opportunity for both the women and the men in the university community to come together to tell the stories of the women who have impacted their lives and careers. We will include the names of the donors to this project along with the names of the women they are honoring in a commemorative program for the portrait unveiling.
Marie M. Daly
Marie Daly joined the Rockefeller Institute in 1948 after receiving her doctorate from Columbia University, becoming the first Black woman in the United States to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry. Funded by a grant from the American Cancer Society, Dr. Daly worked with Rockefeller scientist A.E. Mirsky to study the nuclei of tissues and ribonucleoproteins until 1955. She later returned to Columbia, where she helped discover the relationship between high cholesterol and clogged arteries. Dr. Daly continued research on arteries and the effects of cigarette smoke on the lungs as an assistant professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. She was promoted to associate professor in 1971.
Dr. Daly graduated from Queens College before receiving her master’s degree in chemistry from New York University. She served as an investigator for the American Heart Association and was a member of the prestigious board of governors of the New York Academy of Sciences for two years. In addition to her research, Dr. Daly was committed to increasing the number of minority students enrolled in medical schools. In 1988, she established a scholarship for African American chemistry and physics majors at Queens College in memory of her father.
Rebecca Lancefield began her research on hemolytic streptococci with Rockefeller scientist Oswald T. Avery in 1918, when no one recognized that these microbes caused common and dangerous human diseases like “strep throat,” scarlet fever, and acute kidney disease. Over the course of her research, Dr. Lancefield devised a system for classifying the dozen types of streptococcal bacteria. This system, still in use today, laid the groundwork for understanding the clinical course of such diseases and how they are transmitted.
Dr. Lancefield received her bachelor’s degree from Wellesley College and her Ph.D. in immunology and bacteriology from Columbia University. She remained at Rockefeller for the rest of her career, spanning nearly 40 years, rising to the title of professor in 1958. She later became the first woman elected president of the American Association of Immunologists and one of the few women elected as a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Dr. Lancefield was the recipient of many awards, including the New York Academy of Medicine Medal and the American Heart Association Achievement Award.
Louise Pearce joined the Rockefeller Institute in 1913 as an assistant to Simon Flexner and the Institute’s first woman researcher. During this time, Dr. Pearce studied trypanosomiasis, a fatal disease also known as African sleeping sickness. In 1920, she traveled to the Belgian Congo to field test a new drug called Tryparsamide against the disease. The drug cured about 80 percent of patients and remains the standard treatment for trypanosomiasis today. Shortly after her return, Dr. Pearce was promoted to Associate Professor. She continued in this position for 30 years, during which time she devoted her research to developing animal models for the study of human cancers.
Dr. Pearce received her bachelor’s degree from Stanford University in 1907 and graduated from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1912. She was widely celebrated for her work in the Belgian Congo, receiving the Belgian Order of the Crown in 1921 and the King Leopold II Prize in 1953. The recipient of many additional awards, Dr. Pearce also served as President of the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania from 1946 to 1951, officially retiring from Rockefeller in 1950. She was an active member of a feminist luncheon club, known as Heterodoxy, and a member of the lesbian community.
Gertrude E. Perlmann
Gertrude E. Perlmann was recruited to the Rockefeller Institute in 1945 as a visiting investigator after her discovery of a new research technique to investigate proteins in bodily fluids. Previously a research fellow at the Massachusetts General Hospital, Dr. Perlmann spent the remainder of her career at Rockefeller, rising to the ranks of full professor in 1973, a year before her death. She is highly regarded for her work in protein chemistry, particularly her discoveries on the structure of pepsin and pepsinogen. In 1965, Dr. Perlmann was awarded The American Chemical Society’s Garvan Medal for her outstanding scientific accomplishments and service to the field of chemistry.
Born in Czechoslovakia, Dr. Perlmann earned her doctorate from the German University of Prague. When Adolf Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia in 1938, Dr. Perlmann fled to Denmark, where she worked under a protein chemist at the Biological Laboratory of the Carlsburg Foundation and Carlsburg Laboratory in Copenhagen. The advent of World War II forced her continued migration, and she sought refuge in the United States.
Florence Sabin came to the Rockefeller Institute in 1925 as one of the leading women scientists in the United States. After serving as a medical intern at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Dr. Sabin joined the faculty at the Johns Hopkins Medical School in 1917. She was soon promoted to full professor, becoming the first woman at the school to do so. In 1924, she became the first female president of the American Association of Anatomists and, a year later, became the first woman to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences.
Soon thereafter, Dr. Sabin was named Rockefeller’s first woman full professor. Her time at the Institute was primarily dedicated to the study of immune system cells and tubercular lesions. Dr. Sabin’s work in this area is widely celebrated for its important contributions to understanding the immune response to tuberculosis infections. In 1938, she retired from Rockefeller after a 13 year tenure. Dr. Sabin then embarked on a new career in her home state of Colorado, where she investigated health services and campaigned for public health legislation in a series of government posts. For this work, Dr. Sabin received a Lasker Award for Public Service in 1951. A statue of her stands in the National Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol.