Wishing a happy birthday to Gladys Rowena Henry Dick, part of our series on women who were nominated for Nobel Prizes in science but never won.
Nominated for her work on the Scarlet Fever Vaccine in 1925
b. December 18, 1881 d. August 21, 1963
In the early twentieth century, North America and Europe were plagued with the bacterial peril scarlet fever, which primarily targeted children and caused many such complications as skin infections, kidney disease, rheumatic fever and even resulted in mortality rates reaching up to an alarming 25 percent.
After the loss of her son to scarlet fever, Edith Rockefeller McCormick and her husband established the John R. McCormick Memorial Institute for Infectious Diseases in Chicago, which institution Gladys Henry Dick joined in 1914 and remained until her retirement in 1953, and where much of her research was completed, leading her to develop the skin test and vaccine that would be universally utilized to battle scarlet fever.
Gladys Dick, born Gladys Rowena Henry, was born on December 18, 1881, in Pawnee City, Nebraska, to Azelia Henrietta and William Chester, a grain dealer, banker, and former Civil War officer. She received her Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Nebraska in 1900, and had dreams of attending medical school; a dream that her mother largely opposed at first. However, in 1903, her dreams were realized as she left Nebraska to attend John Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, where she received her M.D. in 1907.
In 1911, Dick moved to Chicago where she worked on kidney pathochemistry and the etiology of scarlet fever at the University of Chicago. She met George Frederick Dick while there, and they were married in 1914. It was later this that year that they moved to Illinois where Dick worked as a pathologist in the Evanston hospital and joined the John R. McCormick Memorial Institute for Infectious Diseases.
In 1923, Gladys Dick, along with her husband George, developed a method for a skin test (named the “Dick test”) which was able to determine susceptibility to scarlet fever , and had been successfully tested on two human subjects. The Dick test offered immunization via active immunization, the process of injecting patients with larger doses of the toxin in question (in this case, the toxin which was released by the scarlet fever bacteria hemolytic streptococci that causes the disease’s signature red rash), followed by doses of the antitoxin, thus allowing the body to create an immunity.
Some controversy surroundeds the Dicks and their vaccine, however, because of the patent they placed on it. While others in the medical realm claimed this stunted more widespread use, the Dicks upheld their stance by stressing the importance of maintaining the correct manufacture of the toxin, and the fact that they did not benefit personally from the patent.
Though they were not awarded the Nobel Prize when they were nominated in 1925, they received the Mickle Prize of the University of Toronto in 1926 and the Cameron Prize of the University of Edinburgh in 1933.
Aside from these and other awards, Gladys Dick founded the first professional adoption association in America, the Cradle Society, in 1918. She continued to dedicate her services to children through her work in polio, and retired to Palo Alto, California, in 1953. In 1963, she died from a stroke, having been diagnosed with cerebral arteriosclerosis ten 10 years earlier.
Carol Hurd Green and Barbara Sicherman. “Notable American Women: The Modern Period: a Biographical Dictionary.” Harvard University Press, 1980. 191-192.
“Scarlet Fever: A Group A Streptococcal Infection.” Cdc.gov. Web. 15 Oct. 2014.