Gertrude Elion was born January 23, 1918 in New York City. In school, she enjoyed and excelled in all of her classes, but when it came time to choose a major for college, a family experience led her choice.

In 1937, Gertrude graduated from Hunter College with a degree in chemistry. Upon graduation, Elion began studying at New York University in the evenings and on weekends, while substitute teaching in New York City Public Schools during the day. She taught physics, chemistry, and other sciences. In 1941 she obtained her Master of Science in the field of chemistry.

By this time, World War II had begun and there was a shortage of chemists in industrial laboratories. Although I was finally able to get a job in a laboratory, it was not in research. I did analytical quality control work for a major food company. After a year and a half, during which I learned a good deal about instrumentation, I became restless because the work was so repetitive and I was no longer learning anything. I applied to employment agencies for a research job, and was chosen to go to a laboratory at Johnson and Johnson in New Jersey. Unfortunately, that laboratory was disbanded after about six months. At that time I was offered a number of positions in research laboratories but the one which intrigued me most was a position as assistant to George Hitchings. – Getrude Elion

In this position, Elion expanded her expertise from solely chemistry to pharmacology, immunology, and other relevant sciences.

Elion and Hitchings in their laboratory.
Elion and Hitchings in their laboratory.

During this period, Elion was also working to get her doctorate by going to school at night at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute. After several years of commuting to night classes, Elion was told she could no longer attend part-time, and must study full-time to obtain her doctorate. It was at this time that she decided to abandon her doctorate studies and remain at her job.

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Throughout her career, Elion took part in developing treatments for several ailments, like leukemia, cancer, gout, and malaria. Later in her career, she assisted in the adaptation of AZT, a drug used to treat AIDS. She went on to receive the Nobel Prize in Medicine alongside George Hitchings and received honorary doctorate degrees from George Washington University, Brown University, and the University of Michigan.

Further Reading:







Sophie Rabinoff was born in Mogileff, Russia in 1889. Less than a year after her birth, her family immigrated to the United States, settling in New York City. Rabinoff attended Hunter College, going on to study at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, from which she graduated in 1913.


Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA

Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA

She soon became the first female intern at the Beth Israel Hospital, and later completed a residency at the New York Home for Infants. There, she conducted research on childhood diseases, and infant nutrition.

 At the Hebrew Infant Asylum in New York City, Alfred Hess and Sophie Rabinoff attempted to immunize children against mumps and chickenpox. Children who never had mumps received prophylactic injections of blood from convalescent donors and were then placed in mumps wards (Hess, 1915). Sophie Rabinoff’s enthusiastic report of successful efforts to stem the spread of varicella through vaccinations encouraged May Michael to repeat the attempt when chickenpox developed in Chicago’s Home for Jewish Friendless in 1017. She administered vaccines to thirty-two children, but drew few conclusions (Rabinoff, 1915; Michael, 1917). “Historical Overview: Pediatric Experimentation” by Susan E. Lederer and Michael A. Grodin in Children as Research Subjects: Science, Ethics and Law, ed. Michael A. Grodin

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Sophie Rabinoff in London, July 20, 1918. Courtesy of Jennifer Arnold Photo by Martin & Sallnow, 16 Piccadilly, London, W

Because of her knowledge in this specialized area, Rabinoff was chosen to join the American Zionist Medical Unit, a group that was sent to Palestine to provide healthcare and emergency medical services. The only woman in the group, Rabinoff helped create a clinic for Arab and Jewish children.

Upon returning to the United States, Rabinoff briefly maintained her own private practice, but soon began working as a pediatrician for the New York Department of Health. Rabinoff ran the pediatric clinic at Mount Sinai Hospital from 1919 – 1934 and sometime during the 1930s she was the cardiologist for the New York Infirmary for Women and Children. She was later appointed to Senior Health Officer of a portion of the Bronx.

Pediatrician and professor Sophie Rabinoff circa 1940s. Courtesy of Jennifer Arnold Photo: Murray A. Toback, Department of Medical Photography, NY Medical College,1 East 108th Street, New York, NY
Pediatrician and professor Sophie Rabinoff circa 1940s.
Courtesy of Jennifer Arnold
Photo: Murray A. Toback, Department of Medical Photography, NY Medical College,1 East 108th Street, New York, NY

Rabinoff earned a master of science in public health from Columbia University in 1944. She later went to East Harlem to administer health services to its population of Puerto Rican immigrants. In 1951, she became a full professor at New York Medical College, and was made director of the Public Health department at the school. She maintained this position until her death in 1957.

Further Reading:

Sophie Rabinoff, 1889 – 1957

Sophie Rabinoff

Meet Sophie Rabinoff as the Camera Saw Her

The Problem of Diptheria Carriers by Sophie Rabinoff, MD