Monday, May 4, 2015

Today is the birthday of Agnes Fay Morgan

Today is the birthday of Agnes Fay Morgan, born in Peoria, Illinois (1884). She studied chemistry in college, and received her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. But job prospects for female chemists were bleak, so she took a position in the Home Economics department at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1915. She was an associate professor of “household science,” specifically nutrition. She made it her mission to bring the element of science into the program, which was typically dismissed as “women’s work.” When she was made chair of the department, she increased the rigor of the program and worked to have it taken seriously. While other home economics programs were little more than instruction on the art of gracious living, Morgan required all of her students to have a solid foundation in physical and biological science. In 1960 — six years after Morgan retired — the Home Economics Department was renamed the Nutritional Sciences Department, and a year after that, their building was renamed Agnes Fay Morgan Hall. Even after she officially retired, she never gave up her research, and continued to show up to her Berkeley office on a regular basis until her death in 1968.

Morgan, with her background in chemistry applied to the field of nutrition, wrote more than 250 scientific papers. She was responsible for much of what we know about the vitamins in food. She also proved the link between vitamin deficiencies and poor health conditions; showed certain vitamins’ effect on hormones; and analyzed the effects of heat and processing on the stability of vitamins and proteins.