Alice Ball was a Black chemist who discovered the most operative leprosy cure with an injectable oil extract in the 1940s. She not only became the first female to receive a Master’s degree but also the first African American to be a chemistry lecturer at the University of Hawaii. Ball overcame ethnic and gender obstacles of her time to be one of the few celebrated Blacks for her contribution to the health sector. Her “Ball Method” remained the only viable leprosy treatment until the introduction of sulfone drugs as alternative medications to enhance people’s recovery from leprosy (University of Hawaii, 2017). She could not see the full effect of her discovery during her short lifespan. Unfortunately, Ball received the due credit she had won just years after her death. Thus, Alice Ball needs to be recognized during Black History Month as we celebrate the history and achievement of African Americans.
In 2007, the former Hawaiian Lieutenant Governor Mazie Hirono proclaimed February 29 as “Alice Ball Day.” During this year, the Regents’ Medal of Distinction was awarded posthumously by the University of Hawaii to acknowledge the forgotten Black woman’s influences. After her death, Dr. Arthur Dean, the Premier of the College of Hawaii, proceeded with Ball’s investigation without giving credit to her. Unfortunately, it was typical for males to take acknowledgment for females, and Ball became a victim of the practice (Brewster, 2018). Dean also claimed Ball’s works for himself, naming it the “Dean Method.” In 1922, Dr. Harry T. Hollmann, the Kalihi Hospital surgeon’s assistant who initially encouraged Ball to research chaulmoogra oil, published an article that gave her the proper credit (University of Hawaii, 2017). However, Ball was still largely forgotten despite the contribution she made to the health department.
In 2017, Paul Wermager, who was an academic lecturer on Ball at the University of Hawaii-Mānoa founded an Alice-Augusta Ball bursar for students studying microbiology, chemistry, and biology at the College of Natural Sciences. Although Ball worked hard, juggled, and taught about chaulmoogra, but had no opportunity of publishing her conclusions. Unfortunately, Ball became ill during one of her laboratory sessions after chlorine poisoning and passed away untimely. However, Ball has gotten a long-overdue recognition in the past twenty years. After Ball’s name was put underneath the only chaulmoogra tree of the University of Hawaii in 2000, Brewster (2018) added that she received a political award from the Lt. Governor Hirono in 2007.
Alice Ball’s effort provided background information for subsequent scientists to research alternative treatment options to protect the susceptible global population from the negative consequences associated with leprosy (University of Hawaii, 2017). For instance, the U.S. government partnered with the entrusted health players to isolate persons with skin conditions as a critical approach to curbing leprosy spread among Americans. Alice Ball was one of the celebrated Blacks that endeavored to overcome the adversities and social challenges they experienced from their White counterparts during the previous era.
In conclusion, Ball’s discovery helped promote the well-being and sustainable existence of individuals residing within the global society. The African American chemist’s new treatment options motivated several other health researchers to invest their limited resources and time to seek alternative and more effective medication and management options to safeguard leprosy patients. These endeavors helped in reducing the likelihood of isolating sick people in isolation centers in the future. Moreover, Americans commemorate the great scientist every February 29, and it is an indication that her input remains significant in this contemporary era.
Brewster, C.D. (2018). How the woman who found a leprosy treatment was almost lost to history. Web.
University of Hawaii. (2017). A Woman Who Changed the World. (2017). Web.