Alice Augusta Ball

Alice Augusta ball was a renowned biochemist and Seattle native who broke barriers in the field of Chemistry during the early 1900’s. Born to a prominent and well-educated family, she was the third of four children. Ball spent most of her youth in between Seattle and Hawaii. She received two undergraduate degrees – B.S. (1912) in Pharmaceutical Chemistry and B.S. (1914) in Pharmacy from the University of Washington (UW). She obtained her MS (1915) in Chemistry from the College of Hawai’i now known as the University of Hawai’i at Manoa (UH). Her thesis was titled “The Chemical Constituents of Piper methysticum; or The Chemical Constituents of the Active Principle of the Ava Root” in which she studied properties of the Kava plant. The Kava plant was used to treat many illnesses and diseases in Polynesia. In the process, she became the first woman and first African American woman to receive a degree from UH. She also became the first female Professor of Chemistry at UH.

It was at UH where Ball’s most impactful work would come to fruition. Ball’s then studied chaulmoogra oil and its properties to use in treating Hansen’s disease, commonly known as leprosy. She was able to fashion the oil into an injectable and absorbable form in circulation that could provide substantial relief of symptoms better than the ointments available at the time. Unfortunately, she passed away at the young age of 24 in 1916, thought to be a result of chlorine poising during a lab demonstration. Her graduate professor, Arthur L. Dean, would go on to take credit for her work and even named her method of configuring the oil after himself. Luckily, much later down the road in 2004, a paper trail led an investigative journalist to unravel the truth about Ball’s contributions and her method went on to be renamed the “Ball Method”. Her method remained the most effective until the development of antibiotic treatment in the mid-20th century.