Morgan, Agnes Fay (1884–1968)

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Morgan, Agnes Fay (1884–1968)

American biochemist who pioneered the development of home economics as a scientific discipline and spearheaded research in nutrition. Born Jane Agnes Fay on May 4, 1884, in Peoria, Illinois; died of a heart attack on July 20, 1968, in Berkeley, California; daughter of Patrick John Fay (a laborer who later became a builder) and Mary (Dooley) Fay; attended Vassar College; University of Chicago, B.S., 1904, M.S., 1905, Ph.D., 1914; married Arthur Ivason Morgan, in 1908; children: Arthur Ivason Jr. (b. 1923).

Taught chemistry at Hardin College, Mexico, Missouri (1905–06), the University of Montana (1907–08), and the University of Washington, where she organized an honor society for women in chemistry (1910–12); began teaching at University of California at Berkeley (1915), became full professor (1923), professor of home economics and biochemistry (1938–54), department chair (1923–54); received Garvan Medal from the American Chemical Society for her work on vitamins (1949); received Borden Award from the American Institute of Nutrition (1954).

Agnes Fay Morgan played a major role in transforming the field of home economics by making chemistry an integral part of the curriculum. She also did pioneering research on the bio-chemistry of vitamins, although she was proudest of her administrative accomplishments, which included building up one of the best home economics departments in the country during that era and organizing and chairing numerous meetings on nutrition.

Morgan was born on May 4, 1884, in Peoria, Illinois, the third of four children of Patrick John Fay and Mary Fay , both of whom had immigrated from Ireland. Neither of Agnes' two brothers attended college, but her excellence at Peoria High School brought her a full scholar-ship from a local benefactor. She attended Vassar College for a short time before transferring to the University of Chicago, where she earned a B.S. in chemistry in 1904 and an M.S. in 1905. Following graduation, she taught chemistry at Hardin College in Missouri (1905–06), the University of Montana (1907–08), and the University of Washington (1910–12), where she organized an honor society for women in chemistry. While in Montana, she met and married Arthur Ivason Morgan, a high school teacher and football coach, in 1908. The couple lived in Seattle for three years before she returned to Chicago, at her husband's urging, to earn her doctorate in physical and organic chemistry in 1914. The next year Morgan accepted an offer from the University of California, and the couple moved to Berkeley. She traveled up the ladder quickly at Berkeley, beginning as an assistant professor of nutrition in the new department of household sciences and arts, advancing to associate professor in 1919, and to full professor in 1923, when she was also appointed chair of the department. This same year she gave birth to her only child, Arthur Ivason, Jr. She also held an appointment as a biochemist at the experiment station at Berkeley from 1938 to 1954.

The home economics department at Berkeley flourished under Morgan's leadership, becoming one of the best in the country. Nutrition was then only a fledgling field, and when Morgan taught a scientific human nutrition course in 1915 it was the first ever offered at the university. She emphasized research and was the first to make chemistry an integral part of the home economics curriculum. Most of her research centered on the biochemistry of vitamins, and she received the Garvan Medal of the American Chemical Society in 1949 for this work, as well as the Borden Award from the American Institute of Nutrition in 1954. She also was concerned with establishing standards for adequate human nutrition. Morgan was most proud of her accomplishments in administration, particularly those which built up the strength of the home economics department, and also of her organization and chairing of numerous national and international meetings on nutrition. In addition, in 1939 she conducted a study of the food at San Quentin Prison, served on a committee in 1960 which investigated the toxic effects of agricultural pesticides, published Experimental Food Study (1927, 1940), and worked with the Office of Scientific Research and Development during World War II as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Morgan founded Alpha Nu, a local honor society for women in home economics, as well as a national society for women in chemistry, Iota Sigma Pi.

Agnes Fay Morgan received an honorary degree from the University of California in 1959, and in 1961 the home economics building was named in her honor. She was elected a fellow of the American Institute of Nutrition and was a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Society of Biological Chemistry. Morgan remained active in academic and public affairs until she died of a heart attack in Berkeley in 1968.


Bailey, Martha J. American Women in Science. Denver, CO: ABC-CLIO, 1994.

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


Morgan's professional papers are held in the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Jo Anne Meginnes , freelance writer, Brookfield, Vermont

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Morgan, Agnes Fay (1884–1968)

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