Hyde, Ida (1857–1945)

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Hyde, Ida (1857–1945)

American physiologist who developed microtechniques to investigate a single cell. Born in Davenport, Iowa, on September 8, 1857; died in Berkeley, California, on August 22, 1945; one of four children of Meyer Heidenheimer (a merchant) and Babette (Loewenthal) Heidenheimer; attended the Chicago Athenaeum; attended the University of Illinois, 1881–82; Cornell University, B.S., 1891; attended the University of Strassburg, 1893–95; University of Heidelberg, Ph.D., 1896; never married; no children.

Noted physiologist Ida Hyde worked 23 years—about the length of her later career as a scientist—just to obtain her education, battling poverty and sex discrimination the entire way. She was born in Davenport, Iowa, in 1857, the daughter of German immigrants who had shortened their name from Heidenheimer to Hyde on arrival in the United States. At age 16, Hyde was apprenticed to a millinery business in Chicago. Determined to continue her education, she attended the Chicago Athenaeum, a school for working students. At age 24, she entered the University of Illinois, but after one year had depleted her finances and was forced to find work. She secured a position teaching in the Chicago public schools, where she remained for the next seven years. It was not until 1888 that she entered Cornell University to once again pursue her education, receiving her undergraduate degree in 1891.

Hyde continued instruction at Bryn Mawr College, where she studied under zoologist Thomas Hunt Morgan (1866–1945) and physiologist Jacques Loeb (1859–1934). In 1893, she was invited to do research at the University of Strassburg, and, with funding from the Association of Collegiate Alumnae (later the American Association of University Women), she was able to accept the offer. At Strassburg, however, she was denied permission to take the Ph.D. examination because of her gender. She transferred to the University of Heidelberg, where she also met with further sex discrimination from noted physiologist Wilhelm Kühne, with whom she wished to study. However, she managed to obtain support from other faculty members and, in 1896, became the first woman to receive a Ph.D. from Heidelberg University. She would later detail her experiences in Germany in the satiric article, "Before Women Were Human Beings." After receiving her degree, Hyde did research at the Heidelberg Table of the Zoological Station, a marine biological lab in Naples. Her experience there interested her in providing a similar opportunity for other women scientists, and she later led the effort to establish the Naples Table Association for Promoting Scientific Research by Women.

Returning to the United States in the fall of 1896, she spent a year as a research fellow at Radcliffe College, working with physiologist William Townsend Porter at the Harvard Medical School, the first woman to do research at that institution. In 1898, she joined the faculty of the University of Kansas as an associate professor of physiology, and in 1905, when a separate department of physiology was established, she was promoted to full professor. In over two decades with the university, Hyde gained an outstanding reputation as a teacher and researcher. In conjunction with her classroom work, she wrote a textbook, Outlines of Experimental Physiology (1905), and a laboratory manual, Laboratory Outlines of Physiology (1910). Her research was conducted mostly during the summers. She was at the University of Liverpool in the summer of 1904 and spent several subsequent summers at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. She also managed to further pursue her own education, spending summers between 1908 and 1912 at Rush Medical College in Chicago, and completing nearly all the requirements for an M.D. degree. Retiring from the university in 1922, Hyde returned to the University of Heidelberg for a year to conduct research on the effects of radium.

Hyde's scientific work was broad within her field, including both invertebrates and vertebrates,

and dealing with the physiology of the circulatory, respiratory, and nervous systems. Her major contribution was the development of microtechniques by which a single cell could be investigated. The microelectrode that she invented in 1921 is still routinely used in neurophysiology. In recognition of her work, Hyde was the first woman elected to membership in the American Physiological Association.

Throughout her life, Hyde continued to help other women achieve their academic goals, founding scholarships at both Cornell and the University of Kansas and donating $25,000 to establish the Ida H. Hyde Woman's International Fellowship of the American Association of University Women, the organization that had made it possible for her to study in Germany.

After her retirement, Hyde settled in California, living first in San Diego, then Berkeley, where she died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1945.


Ogilvie, Marilyn Bailey. Women in Science. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1986.

Sicherman, Barbara and Carol Hurd Green, eds. Notable American Women: The Modern Period. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1980.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts