Review of Chung's "Women Pioneers of Medical Research: Biographies of 25 Outstanding Scientists" (2010), by T. Lacy for H-Education

King-Thom Chung. Women Pioneers of Medical Research: Biographies of
25 Outstanding Scientists. Jefferson McFarland, 2010. vii + 212
pp. $35.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-7864-2927-1.

Reviewed by Tim Lacy (History Department, Monmouth College)
Published on H-Education (January, 2011)
Commissioned by Jonathan D. Anuik

"More Remarkable" Success: Women's Struggles and Achievements in
Medical Science

In an age of concern about medical ethics, as well as problematic
relationships between medical research, science, and politics, it can
be refreshing to revisit the lives of those who successfully
navigated--or transcended--the problems of their respective ages.
Take, for instance, the famous medical researchers and physicians who
lived during the twentieth century: Jonas E. Salk, Albert Schweitzer,
Paul Ehrlich, and Harvey Cushing. In that century, those physicians
witnessed the rise of the medical establishment, around the world, to
its greatest heights. Even when one concedes the inequalities of the
era, both in the medical profession and among those receiving care,
it is uplifting to review the century's successes.

That period's successes and challenges, in relation to women, are
captured in King-Thom Chung's 2010 book, _Women Pioneers of Medical
Research_. Though its twenty-five biographies stretch back
chronologically to the late seventeenth century, nearly two-thirds
look at women who lived out their adult and professional lives at the
turn of, or fully in, the twentieth century. Chung's purpose, or
thesis, is to underscore "the importance of the human side of
science" (pp. vii, 6). Indeed, his criteria for selection and
emphasis are sound in relation to that thesis: he focuses on these
twenty-five women researchers for their "dedication to science" and
devotion to "the betterment" of the human condition (p. 1).

While Chung, a biology professor, centers his study on women who
spent a great deal of time in academia, he is not interested in
developing an explicit, self-identified philosophy of
history--relating to science or any other historical subdiscipline.
_Women Pioneers_ is not that kind of history. There is no Thomas Kuhn
(_The Structure of Scientific Revolutions _[1962]) nor any of his
successors in this work. And no explicit feminist theory, such as
that articulated by Joan Scott in relation to women, gender, and
power, underlies Chung's thinking.[1] _Women Pioneers_ operates under
a straightforward "these are the women and facts about them that
should not be forgotten" framework.

Even so, the book does serve as a counterweight to the "great man
theory of history"--a problem that has apparently not been stamped
out of the history of science. This is done in two ways. First, Chung
focuses on women as a counterweight to men. Second, he does not
generally set up each woman to be a hero who worked alone; these
women researchers were extraordinary historical actors within
networks and institutions. Drawing his thesis together with the
immediate topic, Chung focuses on the theme of struggle. This theme
is clear in the text and implied in this inspirational passage:
"Women throughout history have displayed as much such [_sic_]
dedication as men--and often had to work harder to even be allowed to
pursue their passions. As a rule, to succeed, women have to fight
conscious or unconscious discrimination. Thus, everything else being
equal, their successes are more remarkable than those of men" (p. 1).

In spite of this passage's clear feminist sympathies, it is worth
reiterating that the book is not ideologically driven. Indeed,
Chung's stories succeed because they address each woman's biography,
struggles, and achievements in a succinct, fair fashion (i.e.,
without unnecessarily degrading other women and men in each story).
If this book is not driven by theory, it is also not constructed as
an outdated, Whiggish story of glory and progress.[2] While his
stories are generally positive, Chung relays a number of unsolved
problems for women medical researchers in the narratives, as well as
personal failings related to each (when evident).

In terms of style, the book presents all biographies in chronological
order by birth year (Mary Wortley Montagu, b. 1689, through Alice
Shih-Hou Huang, b. 1939). Chung does not distract the reader with too
much scholarly apparatus. Whenever possible, chapters end with a
"Further Reading" section, discussing both primary and secondary
sources. These lists are thick and thin in relation to the prominence
of the woman under consideration (there are no extra reading
citations for Sara Elizabeth Branham and the aforementioned Huang,
but Elizabeth Blackwell and Rosalind Elsie Franklin have predictably
long lists). In addition to suggestions for further reading, there is
also a thirteen-page appendix of "Important Persons Mentioned in the
Text" that outlines dates lived and significant contributions to

Because of Chung's straightforward style and the fact that theory is
not strictly necessary to his subject matter, it might be tempting,
at times, to see his book as merely a reference compilation. But that
view would not account for at least two contextual factors. First,
women's history is still too often buried or undervalued as an
empowerment tool. Second, many of the sources used by Chung are
either in obscure science journals or held privately by him
(apparently as personal interviews). If he availed himself of
archives, they are not indicated in his notes. Apart from these
considerations, the fact that Chung crafts stories for each of the
women moves the book away from being only a reference tool.

The author's scholarly background--he is a biology professor,
focusing on microbiology and molecular toxicology at the University
of Memphis--explains the absence of historical theory (feminist and
science, per the discussion above) in his book. But it enables him to
underscore the significant scientific achievements of each of his
chosen women. This is valuable spade work for later historians of
medicine and science who will integrate these women into their broad,
highly contextualized surveys of their fields.

What is in the book? Who makes it into Chung's pantheon of
researchers? For those familiar with the history of medicine, some
predictable figures appear: Florence Nightingale, Elizabeth Blackwell
(Emily Blackwell is not given a unique entry), and even Madame Marie
Sklodowska Curie. While Nightingale and Curie might seem to stretch
the definition of researcher by today's standards, the "pioneer"
label cannot be denied.

Chung's work on the most recent women researchers should prove
especially attractive to educators and historians. Some informed
readers will be aware of Rosalind Franklin's work--still generally
unknown--on the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) molecule. Others might
even know of the APGAR score (and its mnemonic significance) but not
that the system was developed by Virginia Apgar (1909-74), daughter
of a New Jersey couple, the father being an insurance salesperson and
amateur scientist.[3] But I suspect few readers, historians or
otherwise, will have heard of Gladys Lounsbury Hobby (1910-93),
discoverer of Terramycin and antibiotic researcher. Few probably know
about Gertrude Belle Elion (1918-99), a researcher for Burroughs
Wellcome Laboratories (now Glaxo-Wellcome), whose work on
"chemotherapy, pharmacology, immunology, and biochemistry" earned her
a 1988 Nobel Prize shared with two other scientists (p. 144). Whether
their inclusion was accidental or purposed, Chung's work also
highlights the color-blind nature of late twentieth-century
scientific achievement, if not recognition. He relays the successes
of (and obstacles overcome by) two African American women, Jane C.
Wright (1919- ) and Jewel Plummer Cobb (1924- ), as well as the
Chinese-born U.S. citizen Huang.

Despite the credentials and prominence (i.e., Nobel Prize winners) of
some of Chung's U.S. science figures from the twentieth century, I
was surprised that I had seen none in a book like Kenneth M.
Ludmerer's well-read, well-known text on U.S. medical education,
_Time to Heal: American Medical Education from the Turn of the
Century to the Era of Managed Care_ (1999).[4] I have said this not
to indict Ludmerer but to praise Chung. It is my belief that the
absence of Chung's researchers in Ludmerer suggests a curious gap
between histories of university-based medical training and
university-based medical research. Cobb's story, however, reveals how
both historical strains may come together.

Cobb taught at the University of Illinois Medical School (1952-54),
worked at the New York University Tissue Culture Research Laboratory
(1954-60), taught again at Sarah Lawrence College (1960-69), held a
professorship and deanship at Connecticut College (1969-76), obtained
another deanship at Douglass College of Rutger's University
(1976-81), and then became president of California State University
at Fullerton (1981-90). She served as an administrator but "continued
to combine scientific research and college teaching and continued to
publish frequently" (p. 181). Through Cobb, and the biography genre
as a means of integrating topics, a reader may understand how medical
education, medical research, and the general trajectory of the
history of medicine work together. Though brief and simply written,
Chung's stories provide a potential methodological approach for
historians of the medical profession (i.e., historical biography and
highly contextualized life stories).

In the twenty-first century, the bar for entering medical
research--for both women and men--is understandably high. The costs
of training and research, as well as potential profits, are immense.
To enter the field one must often acquire credentials in both
medicine (i.e., Medical Doctor [MD] or Osteopathic Doctor [DO]) and
research (the PhD). The competition and vetting processes are
intense. Many of the women covered by Chung, however, earned their
respective credentials and worked their way up the research
hierarchy. As a result, Chung's stories are less practically helpful
for today's aspiring women researchers. Even so, the symbolism and
idealism of these women will be useful to educators and aspirants.

Despite the distance between the past and the present, the fairness,
brevity, and readability of Chung's book will make it a success in
upper-level high school and lower-level college curricula. Given a
chance, the book will be a nice addition to both classes introducing
the sciences and medicine to candidates, as well as to
interdisciplinary studies courses. Indeed, this book should work
nicely with an introductory history text like James H. Cassedy's
brief, but male-dominated, _Medicine in America: A Short History
_(1991). Chung's book should also find a home on reference shelves in
high schools, colleges and universities, and public libraries. _Women
Pioneers_ should reap benefits from the international nature of the
women profiled. While the book is written in English, translations
ought to be considered for libraries outside of English-speaking

_Women Pioneers_ has the potential to find a wide audience. The
material is accessible and of interest to educators trying to provide
a human entry-point into the sciences. Finally, historians of
medicine and the sciences will appreciate Chung's work as a ready
reference to previously neglected historical figures. The book's
clear prose and straightforward presentation are its greatest


[1]. Joan Scott, "Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis,"
in _Feminism and History_, ed. Joan Scott (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1996), 152-180. This collection contains numerous
other examples of approaches to women's history, as well as gender in
historical analyses.

[2]. Peter Novick, _That Noble Dream: The "Objectivity Question" and
the American Historical Profession_ (New York: Cambridge University
Press, 1988), 13.

[3]. APGAR is short for Appearance (skin color), Pulse rate, Grimace
(reflex), Activity (muscle tone), and Respiration (breathing rate).
Deirdre O'Reilly, "APGAR," _A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia_ via
Medline Plus by the National Library of Medicine (NLM) and National
Institutes of Health (NIH), (accessed
December 30, 2010).

[4]. I cross-checked Chung with Ludmerer, and none of Chung's
researchers appear in the latter's index.

Citation: Tim Lacy. Review of Chung, King-Thom, _Women Pioneers of
Medical Research: Biographies of 25 Outstanding Scientists_.
H-Education, H-Net Reviews. January, 2011.