Campbell, Charlotte C. (1914–1993)

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Campbell, Charlotte C. (1914–1993)

American medical mycologist and university professor. Born Charlotte Catherine Campbell in Winchester, Virginia, on December 4, 1914; died in Boston, Massachusetts, on October 8, 1993; daughter of Philip Edward and Mary (Ambrose) Campbell; attended Blackstone College, Virginia, 1934, and Ohio State University; graduated B.S., George Washington University, 1951; earned a diploma in medical technology from the University of Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia; never married; no children.

Served as medical technician in Winchester (1938–41); taught during World War II at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Washington, D.C. (1941–48), becoming chief of medical mycology (1948); an outstanding pioneer in the field of medical mycology, was on the faculty of Harvard University (1962–73) and promoted to full professor (1970) despite the fact that she had never been awarded a doctorate.

Born and raised in rural Winchester, Virginia, Charlotte Catherine Campbell rode horseback from her family's farm to get to the local one-room seven-grade country school. Her native intelligence and leadership abilities were apparent in her early years, when she was elected the first female class president at Handley High School in Winchester. Two weeks after her graduation, Charlotte's father died, placing the family under severe financial pressure during the Great Depression. Unable to afford a college education, Campbell had no choice but to find work to support herself. Her first job was as a laboratory assistant in her hometown hospital. She was, however, focused on a career in medical research and continued to upgrade her professional skills, eventually earning a diploma in medical technology from the University of Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia.

In 1941, with war already raging in several parts of the world, Campbell became an instructor in bacteriology and medical mycology at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Washington, D.C. Her job was to teach military officers about the threats to human health posed by fungal infections such as histoplasmosis. The field was a new one at the time, and during these years she became an expert on histoplasmosis and other fungal diseases, publishing the results of her research. By the time she retired almost four decades later, Campbell had published 126 articles in the most eminent scientific journals in her field. Because of the excellence of her wartime work, she was promoted in 1948 to become the head of the mycology section of the Walter Reed research facility.

Despite her busy schedule, Campbell took college courses in the 1940s and early 1950s, earning from George Washington University in 1951 the B.S. degree, "with honors," that economic pressures during the depression had denied her. To friends, she simply noted, "it took me 18 years to get the degree; it was a real effort." During the next decade, she upgraded the research at Walter Reed while continuing to pursue her own research agenda, which concentrated on cultivation of Histoplasma capsulatum in yeastlike tissue form as well as perfecting the antigenic analysis of the organism and developing a complement fixation test using the yeast phase antigen. The test developed by her during these years is now routinely used for serological diagnosis of histoplasmosis.

In 1962, with her scientific reputation internationally anchored, Charlotte Campbell left Walter Reed after more than two decades of achievement. Nobel laureate Dr. Thomas T. Weller of Harvard University convinced her to accept the offer of associate professorship in the Harvard University School of Public Health. Though she had never earned a doctorate, Campbell's world reputation as a research superstar followed her to Harvard, and she was soon the center of a large circle of admiring colleagues and friends. Over the next few years, she established an outstanding teaching and research program in her increasingly important area, a fact that brought further professional recognition in 1970 when she was promoted to the rank of full professor. With this promotion, she entered the small group of only 17 women to enjoy that high distinction in the 334 years of Harvard history up to that time. The next year, Charlotte Campbell received an honorary doctorate from Lowell Institute of Technology in Lowell, Massachusetts.

In 1973, Campbell left Harvard for a prestigious post at Southern Illinois University. Retirement from academic life in 1977 did not significantly slow her down as she continued to maintain a strong interest in research and worked on projects aimed at promoting world peace and social justice. Believing that intellectual exchanges could lessen the tensions of the Cold War, she served as the coordinator of the US/USSR Exchange Program in Microbiology from 1977 to 1982. In 1982, she moved back to Boston, turning her home on 120 Pembroke Street into a center for informal gatherings, political debates, and reunions of former colleagues and students. Despite the growing infirmities of age, in her last years Charlotte Campbell was intensely active in her community; she organized soup kitchens for the homeless and worked as a volunteer at Brigham and Women's Hospital and with battered women at a local shelter.

In the final years of her career, Campbell received numerous awards to honor her pioneering work in the field of medical mycology. These included the Rhoda Benham Award from the Mycology Society of America, the International Society for Human and Animal Mycology Award for distinguished contributions to the field, and an honorary doctorate in 1991 from Shenandoah University in her home state of Virginia. Governed by intense intellectual curiosity, Campbell ignored her frail health even in the last months of her life, undertaking a strenuous trip to Siberia and Lake Baikal with several Harvard scientists. Shortly before her death, she sold her Boston home and contributed the sizable profit from the sale to a graduate-student endowment in medical mycology at the Harvard School of Public Health. Her plan had been to return to her childhood home in Winchester to spend her final years in Virginia, but her final illness intervened, and Campbell died in Boston on October 8, 1993, of complications after open-heart surgery. Her funeral at Trinity Church on Boston's Copley Square was a time to celebrate her life as well as mourn her death. Countless friends, colleagues and former students were in attendance as the bagpipes played. According to her wishes, Campbell's ashes were taken to Virginia and scattered over the farm in Winchester where she had grown up. In the words of a colleague and fellow scientist, she was "simply a gracious, insightful, humorous woman of deep humility who knew the meaning of the word 'friend.'"


Saxon, Wolfgang. "Charlotte Catherine Campbell, 78, Ex-Professor and Expert on Fungi," in The New York Times. October 12, 1993, p. C19.

Tewari, Ram P. "Charlotte C. Campbell 1914–1993," in Mycopathologia. Vol. 130, no. 1. April 1995, pp. 1–2.

John Haag , Associate Professor, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia

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Campbell, Charlotte C. (1914–1993)

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