Alice C. Evans
|Born||January 29, 1881|
|Died||September 5, 1975 (aged 94)|
|Alma mater||Susquehanna Collegiate Institute|
University of Wisconsin–Madison
|Known for||Demonstrating that bacillus abortus caused Brucellosis|
|Institutions||US Department of Agriculture|
United States Public Health Service
Alice Catherine Evans (January 29, 1881 – September 5, 1975) was a pioneering American microbiologist. She became a researcher at the US Department of Agriculture. There she investigated bacteriology in milk and cheese. She later demonstrated that Bacillus abortus caused the disease Brucellosis (undulant fever or Malta fever) in both cattle and humans.
Evans was born on a farm in Neath, Bradford County, Pennsylvania, to William Howell, a farmer and surveyor, and Anne B. Evans, a teacher. When Evans was five and six years old, she was taught at home by her parents and attended a one-room school house in Neath where she earned outstanding grades.
In 1886, Evans survived scarlet fever, as did her brother Morgan.
She attended the Susquehanna Collegiate Institute in Towanda, where she played on a women's basketball team and later became a teacher. In her memoirs, she writes that she became a teacher because it was the only profession open to women, but she found it boring. After four years of teaching, she took free classes that were offered to rural teachers at Cornell University. After receiving a scholarship, she earned a B.S. in bacteriology from Cornell University in 1909, and was the first woman to receive a bacteriology scholarship from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where she earned her M.S. the following year.
Evans was offered a federal position at the Dairy Division of the Bureau of Animal Industry at the United States Department of Agriculture. She accepted the offer in Madison, Wisconsin, and worked there for three years. She worked on refining the process of manufacturing cheese and butter for improved flavor and investigating the sources of bacterial contamination in milk products. She was the first woman scientist to hold a permanent position as a USDA bacteriologist and as a civil service worker was protected by law.
Alice became interested in the disease brucellosis and its relationship to fresh, unpasteurized milk. Alice's investigation focused on the organism Bacillus abortus, known to cause miscarriages in animals. Alice learned that the microbe thrived in infected cows as well as animals that appeared healthy. The reports hypothesized that since the bacteria was found in cow's milk, a threat to human health was likely.
Evans decided to investigate this; she wondered whether the disease in cows could be the cause of undulant fever in humans. She reported her findings to the Society of American Bacteriologists in 1917 and published her work in the Journal of Infectious Diseases in 1918.
She was met with skepticism, particularly because she was a woman and did not have a Ph.D. She warned that raw milk should be pasteurized to protect people from various diseases. During the 1920s, scientists around the world made the same findings, and eventually, Brucella was confirmed as the disease that caused what was then known as undulant fever and Malta fever. Her findings led to the pasteurization of milk in 1930. As a result, the incidence of brucellosis in the United States was significantly reduced.
Evans joined the United States Public Health Service in 1918, where she contributed to the field of infectious illness, studying epidemic meningitis and influenza at the department's Hygienic Laboratories. There, she was infected with undulant fever in 1922, a then-incurable disease that impaired her health for twenty years.
Evans donated a collection of her papers to the National Library of Medicine in 1969.
She officially retired in 1945 but continued working in the field. Following her retirement, Alice became a popular speaker, especially with women's groups. She gave lectures to women about career development and pursuing scientific careers. Alice suffered a stroke at the age of 94 and died on September 5, 1975. Her tombstone reads, "The gentle hunter, having pursued and tamed her quarry, crossed over to a new home".
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