Defying all odds, Ruth Ella Moore became the first Black woman to get PhD in natural sciences in 1933

Stephen Nartey December 15, 2022
Dr. Ruth Ella Moore/ Photo credit: Ohio State University

Dr. Ruth Ella Moore became the first African-American woman in the U.S. to attain a Ph.D. in natural sciences in 1933. This milestone was chalked at a time when many women shied away from pursuing higher education in natural sciences.

Professor Moore’s dissertation focused on tuberculosis at the Ohio State University. Her research was instrumental in understanding the health implications bacteriology tuberculosis posed to U.S. society, as reported by the Ohio State University.

At the time of her research, the tuberculosis mortality rate in the U.S. was second of the top killers, with its cure a decade away. Her work showed the way in dealing with the treatment of tuberculosis. She was recruited by African-American microbiologist, Dr. Hildrus A. Poindexter, to be part of his team at the Howard University Medical School.

She learned the ropes of the job when she was brought in to assist with the reconstruction of the pre-clinical division. Professor Moore had to take over the department when Dr. Poindexter’s service was required in the military during the World War.

She was made the acting head of the Department of Bacteriology until 1955 and was promoted to head the unit in 1960. She became the first woman to superintend over the department at Howard University. Dr. Moore was instrumental in research with regard to blood types, dental caries, immunology and other analysis of specific pathogens to different classes of antibiotics.

She broke new ground in her practice as a bacteriologist and became the first African-American woman to become a member of the American Society for Microbiology. Professor Moore’s research was published in many scientific journals including the Journal of the American Medical Association.

She was born in Columbus in 1903. Her mother was instrumental in her academic success. Her mother was an artist and a seamstress, and one of the many African-American entrepreneurs who made her mark in the Midwestern hub. She trained Moore on how to sew but also ensured she made her education a top priority with specific reference to higher education.

She had taste for fashion and wore mostly handmade stylish clothing. Her fashion sense was promoted by the Ohio State Historic Costume and Textile Collection exhibition in 2009. When she finished her bachelor’s degree, Prof. Moore took up a teaching job at Tennessee State College in Nashville in order to raise funds for her education. In 1933, she went back to Ohio State University to complete her Ph.D. in Bacteriology.

Even though she retired as head of department in 1960, she volunteered her knowledge to the university until she hung her boots in 1971. She also mentored many students during her days as a teacher. Professor Moore also played a key role in the league of scholars in her field.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: December 15, 2022


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