LGBTQ scientist Dr. Louise Pearce cured African sleeping sickness
Louise Pearce was born in 1885 in Massachusetts. Women were not allowed to vote without paying a poll tax, and even then for only one office, and only if they can read and write.
Louise Pearce graduated from Stanford in 1907 with a degree in physiology. Women represented a little more than one-third of all United States college students in 1900, so she wasn’t alone at Stanford, but her commencement speaker made clear whose lives he valued: men’s. His speech mentions men 18 times — three of them in capital letters — before mentioning women once, and that’s excluding pronouns where men and only men are being referenced. Women are mentioned three times in the 11-page speech, and never without men first being mentioned.
Five years later, Louise Pearce became a doctor, courtesy of Boston University and then Johns Hopkins University. And a year after that, she became the first woman on the Rockefeller Institute’s scientific staff. She and a male scientist joined a team of two other male scientists working on an arsenic-based cure for African sleeping sickness. Six years later, she and one of the male scientists published their study on tryparsamide’s effectiveness in animals in Journal of Experimental Medicine.
A year later, with African sleeping sickness ripping through what’s now called the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Louise Pearce volunteered to travel alone to the country to try to cure infected people with tryparsamide.
Left untreated, the disease was fatal. Louise Pearce traveled to the country, administered doses of tryparsamide to 70 patients and watched and observed as 56 of them lived — remarkable, given that she didn’t know how much to administer, or when, or anything else about how the drug would act in humans.
The country’s government awarded her the Ancient Order of the Crown and elected her to the Belgian Society of Tropical Medicine (the country was then under Belgian rule).
With one fatal illness cured, Louise Pearce returned to the Rockefeller Institute, where she spent 31 more years researching cancer and syphilis. She was named an associate member in 1923. The Brown-Pearce tumor, named after her and Dr. Wade Hampton Brown, the male scientist with whom she worked to develop tryparsamide, was for years the only transplantable tumor in rabbits. It was studied worldwide.
Louise Pearce’s recognitions include: visiting professor of syphilology at Peiping Union Medical College in China; scientific advisory council member, American Social Hygiene Association; president, Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, 1946 to 1951; and honorary doctorates from Beaver College, Bucknell University and Wilson College, all in Pennsylvania, and Skidmore College, in New York.
She died in 1959 in a house she had shared with two other women: prolific author Ida A. R. Wylie and noted New York City public health Dr. S. Josephine Baker. Louise Pearce was, if not gay, certainly attracted to women, as were her housemates.
Other LGBTQ women in science
- Josephine Baker: Found Typhoid Mary twice. Director, first child hygiene bureau. M.D., Dr.PH.
Frauke Bentzien: Cancer researcher at Exelixis. M.D., Ph.D., University of Heidelberg.
Barbara Belmont: Teaches chemistry at CSU; treasurer of NOGLSTP. M.S. chemistry, IIT.
Ruth Fulton Benedict: Wrote several books on anthropology. Ph.D., anthropology, Columbia.
Carolyn Bertozzi: Bertozzi lab fights disease via cell glycosylation study. Ph.D. chemistry Berkeley.
Christine Bland: Has been an engineer at Lockheed Martin since 1989. BSEE, Colorado.
Judith Butler: Has written 15 books on gender, etc. Teaches at Berkeley. Ph.D., philosophy, Yale.
Margarethe Cammermeyer: Colonel, chief nurse, Wash. State National Guard. Ph.D., U. Wash.
Angela Helen Clayton: Internationally known nuclear physicist. Safety advocate. MBE.
Lynn Conway: Pioneering chip designer at Xerox. Fired for being trans at IBM. M.S., Columbia.
Kate Craig-Wood: Co-founder, server company Memset. M.S., biomedical science, Southampton.
Christine Delphy: Invented material feminism. Studied at U. Chicago, U. Paris, UC Berkeley.
Denice Denton: Former chancellor, UC Santa Cruz. Ph.D., electrical engineering, MIT.
Lisa M. Diamond: Teaches psychology at U. of Utah. Ph.D., human development, Cornell.
Rochelle Diamond: Caltech biology researcher. Couponer. Dual B.S., UC Santa Barbara.
Alberta Hunter: Between singing careers, was a nurse for 20 years. Nursing school, YWCA.
Kate Hutton: Retired Caltech seismologist. Frequent TV analyst. Ph.D., astronomy, U. Md. CP.
Leslie Kerby: Assistant professor, Idaho State. Ph.D., nuclear engineering, U. of Idaho.
Sofia Kovalevsky: 1st female chair at European university since 1776. Ph.D., Göttingen University.
Nathalie Lambrecht: Winner, 2014 Out To Innovate™ Scholarship. Ph.D. student at U. of Mich.
Andrea Leistra: Data scientist, advertising company SocialCode. Ph.D., astronomy, U. of Ariz.
Anne Lister: Is called first modern lesbian. Wrote 4-million-word diary in a code she developed.
Nergis Mavalvala: Astrophysicist; team detected gravitational waves. Ph.D., physics, MIT.
Deirdre McCloskey: Has written 15 books; Supreme Court cited one. Ph.D., economics, Harvard.
Margaret Mead: Curator, American Museum of Natural History. Ph.D., Columbia.
Christa Muth: Corporate turnaround specialist. Human Systems Engineering. Ph.D., La Jolla.
Florence Nightingale: Reduced Crimean hospital death rate by ⅔. Opened medical college.
Tam O’Shaughnessy: Exec. director, Sally Ride Science. Ph.D., school psychology, UC-Riverside.
Rachael Padman: University Council member, lecturer, Cambridge. Ph.D., physics, Cambridge.
Tonia Poteat: Assistant professor, epidemiology, Johns Hopkins. AIDS activist. Ph.D., JHU.
Jane Rigby: Astrophysicist, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Ph.D., astronomy, U. of Ariz.
Donna Riley: Associate professor, engineering, Smith College. Ph.D., Carnegie Mellon.
Amy A. Ross: USC Board of Trustees. SVP, Nexell. Ph.D., experimental pathology, USC.
Joan Roughgarden: Biology teacher at Stanford, 39 years. Ph.D., biology, Harvard University.
Julie Schell: Education researcher, UT-Austin. Ph.D., higher education, Columbia.
Neena B. Schwartz: Director, reproductive science, Northwestern. Ph.D., physiology, N’western.
Fionn Stevenson: Head of Sheffield School of Architecture. Ph.D., architecture, U. of Dundee.
Julia Michelle Serano: Former researcher, Berkeley. Ph.D., biochemistry/biophysics, Columbia.
Virginia Uribe: Former science teacher, L.A. USD. Founder, Project 10. Ph.D., psychology, Sierra.
Harriet Claire Wadeson: Pioneering art therapist, program director. Ph.D., Union Institute.