Chick, Harriette

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(b. London, England, 6 Jan nary 1875; d. Cambridge, England, 9 July 1977)


Harriette Chick was the fifth of the seven daughters and four sons of Samuel Chick, a lace merchant, and of Emma Hooley. All of them were brought up as strict Methodists. Harriette was educated at Notting Hill High School Five of the Chick girls were university graduates, four of them in science or medicine. In 1896 Harriette graduated B.Sc. from University College, London, where she studied botany, obtaining the D.Sc. in 1904. After further work in Germany and England, she was appointed to the staff at the Lister Institute, where she worked for many years, first on the mechanism of disinfection and later, following the arrival of Casimir Funk in 1911, in the field of nutrition. She was made a fellow of University College, London, in 1918.

Also in 1918 the Medical Research Council and the Lister Institute appointed the Accessory Food Factors Committee to investigate the role of vitamins in metabolism. Chick was made secretary (and served on the committee until 1945), and Frederick Gowland Hopkins was chairman. On its behalf Chick made classic studies of childhood rickets in postwar Vienna, in collaboration with the medical staff of the University Children’s Clinic. In 1933 she was awarded an honorary D.Sc. by the University of Manchester. From 1934 to 1937, Chick was secretary of the League of Nations health section committee on the physiological basis of nutrition. She was made C.B.E. in 1932, and D.B.E. in 1949 for her studies on nutrition. She was a founder member of the Nutrition Society (1941) and was president from 1956 to 1959. She had become an honorary member in 1949. Chick remained active as a member of the governing body of the Lister Institute and in the Nutrition Society after her retirement in 1945, She was in good health until her sudden death in 1977, at age 102. She never married.

After receiving the D.Sc. at London, partially for research on green algae in polluted water. Chick was awarded an 1851 Exhibition to work at the hygiene institutes at Vienna and at Munich under Max von Gruber. Upon returning to England she worked under the direction of Rubert Boyce at Liverpool University, an expanding center for pathology and bacteriology in England in the first decade of the century. Charles Sherrington, at that time professor of physiology at Liverpool, steered her toward the next stage in her career by suggesting that she apply to the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine for the Jenner Memorial Research Studentship, which she was awarded in 1905. Her career there was a long and productive one. At the Lister she collaborated with the director, Charles Martin, in a pioneering study of the mechanism of disinfection.

Chick showed that disinfection is a chemical process and obeys the law of mass action. The Chick-Martin test replaced the one then in general use to measure the strength of disinfectants, which had been devised by Samuel Rideal and J. T. Ainslie Walker. These disinfection studies led them to examine the heat coagulation of proteins, the physical chemistry of protein separation by salting out, and the role of protein-water interaction in maintaining protein solubility at different pH values.

During World War I, Chick took over the preparation at the Lister Institute of agglutination serum for diagnosing typhoid and other diseases, After the war ended, she returned to the study of “vitamins, a term coined at the Lister In Casimir Funk in 1912. As a member of the Accessory Food Factors Committee, Chick contributed to a series of books on vitamins. The Present Statt of knowledge Concerning Accessory Food Factirs (Vitamins) appeared in a series of monographs from 1919 to 1932. In Vienna, after the war. Chick investigated opposing theories of the cause of rickets. About 1918 Edward Mellanby and others had advocated a vitamin deficiency, while others, notably in Glasgow, supported a’ domestic’ theory that linked the bony deformities to confinement. lack of exercise, and poor hygiene, Chick was able partly to reconcile these views by showing that treatment with either cod liver oil or sunshine can cure rickets. Although the issue was not entirely resolved until the later discovery of ergosterol and its conversion by sunlight to vitamin D, Chick’s studies had a significant impact on further research and probably were the most lasting of her contributions to science.


I. Original Works. “The Principles Involved in the Standardisation of Disinfectants and the Influence of Organic Matter upon Germicidal Value,” in Journal of Hygiene, 8 (1908). 654–697. with C. J. Martin:’ On the “Heat Coagulation” of Proteins, Part I in Journal of Physiology, 40 (1910), 404–430,’ … Part II,’ ibid., 43 (1911), 1–27, ’… Part III,’ ibid ., 45 (1912), 61–69, and’. Part IV,’ ibid., 261–295, all with C. J. Martin: “The Density and Solution Volume of Some Proteins,” in Biochemical Journal. 7 (1913), 92–96. with C. J. Martin;’ The Precipitation of Egg Albumin by Ammonium Sulphate: A Contribution to the Theory of the “Salting-out” of Proteins,’ ibid ., 380–398, with C. J. Martin: Studies of Rickets in Vienna, 1919–1922 (London. 1923); article in Report on the Present State of Knowledge of Accessory Food Factors t Vitamins). 2nd ed. rev, and enl. (London. 1924); Reports on Biological Standards (London. 1932k Diet and Climate (London. 1935); and War on Disease A History the Lister Institute (London, 1971). with Margaret Hume and Marjorie Macfarlane.

II. Secondary Literature. Lesley Hall and Neil Morgan, “Illustrations from the Wellcome Institute Library. The Archive of the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine,” in Medical History, 30 (1986). 212–215.

Neil Morgan