Rebecca Craighill Lancefield, a noteworthy immunologist and bacteriologist, graduated from Wellesley in 1916. She was an English literature major, but after taking a course in bacteriology, she took several more science courses, particularly in chemistry. After graduating, she was given the opportunity to study in the department of biology at Columbia University under Hans Zinsser and Arnold Kent Balls. She received her M.A. from Columbia in 1918.
She joined the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research as an assistant to Oswald Avery, who developed a serum system for differentiating among types of pneumococci. At the Rockefeller Institute, Lancefield began her study of haemolytic streptococci. In 1921, she returned to Columbia University to finish her Ph.D. with Zinsser. She received her Ph.D. in immunology and bacteriology in 1925.
Shortly after, Lancefield accepted a position to study rheumatic fever with Homer Fordyce Swift at the Rockefeller Institute. In 1970, she was elected to the National Academy of Sciences for her groundbreaking research on the relationship between streptococci and rheumatic fever. She developed a classification system for different types of streptococci, and she demonstrated that one group of streptococci is specific to humans and human disease. During World War II, Lancefield’s laboratory was able to provide streptococcal serums to the U.S. Armed Forces.
In addition to being named to the National Academy of Sciences, Lancefield was the president of the American Association of Immunologists in 1961, and she received the New York Academy of Medicine Medal in 1973. That same year, she was awarded a doctor of science degree by the Rockefeller University, the highest recognition given by the institution.
Rebecca Craighill Lancefield maintained her laboratory until a few months before her death in 1981.
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