Dick, Gladys (1881–1963)

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Dick, Gladys (1881–1963)

American physician and microbiologist who, with her husband, isolated the bacteria that causes scarlet fever and developed methods of diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of the disease. Born Gladys Rowena Henry on December 18, 1881; died of cerebral arteriosclerosis in Palo Alto, California, in 1963; received high school and college degrees in Nebraska; graduated Johns Hopkins, M.D., 1907; postgraduate work in Berlin; married George Dick (a physician); children: (adopted) Roger Henry Dick and Rowena Henry Dick.

In 1903, when Gladys Dick enrolled in medical school at Johns Hopkins, women were not yet provided housing by the school. (She eventually organized the small group of female students in residence to buy a group house.) After earning her M.D., she stayed on at the university to conduct research on experimental cardiac surgery and blood chemistry. In 1911, she moved to the University of Chicago where she began working on the etiology, or cause, of scarlet fever, a major public health hazard at the time that killed a quarter of its predominantly young victims. After marrying her collaborator, George Dick, she and her new husband continued their research at the university's John R. McCormick Memorial Institute for Infectious Diseases.

In 1923, after ten years of methodical research, the couple isolated hemolytic streptococci, previously considered a secondary invader, as the cause of the disease. Less than a year later, they developed a skin test ("the Dick test"), which was distributed throughout the world. They then turned their attention to developing an antiserum. Although their discoveries made them celebrities in the scientific community, they were criticized for patenting their methods of producing the toxin and an antitoxin. The Dicks maintained that they only sought to control the quality of others' use of their methods, but fellow scientists felt that patents would block further research and biological standardization. The controversy cooled in the 1940s, with the development of antibiotics.

When she was 49, Gladys and her husband adopted two children. In her later years, she divided her time between the Cradle Society (an adoption agency she had founded) and polio research. In 1953, weakened by cerebral arteriosclerosis, she retired with her husband to Palo Alto, California. Ten years later, in 1963, Gladys Dick succumbed to the disorder.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Dick, Gladys (1881–1963)

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