It is thought that it was her work as a chemist that saved Dr. Ruby Hirose from the fate of her family and a large number of Japanese Americans during World War II. Between 1942 and 1946 around 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry living on the Pacific Coast of the United States were forcibly relocated and incarcerated in camps, an imprisonment that she escaped because she was working at a lab in Ohio at the time instead of in her home state of Washington.
Born in the United States in 1904, not much is known about her early years and education until she obtained her master’s degree in pharmacology from the University of Washington in 1928. Moving to the University of Cincinnati, she earned a doctorate in 1932 and worked at the school for a while until hired by the research division of the William S. Merrell Company. Her research focused on creating serums and antitoxins including work on a vaccine for the prevention of infant paralysis due to polio. Putting her skills as a biochemist and bacteriologist to work she did substantial research on pollens and allergens including using alum to treat the pollen extracts used to desensitize hay fever suffers in an effort to increase treatment effectiveness that was inspired by her use of alum-precipitated toxoid for protection against diphtheria.
Additionally she used her research skills to chronicle the history of the plant Hydrastis Canadensis also known as Goldenseal. This plant is native to North America and in a paper she published titled, “A Pharmaceutical Study of Hydrastis Canadensis” she traces how Native Americans first used it for dyes and as a treatment for sores that they shared with European settlers. The paper documented how Lewis and Clark observed the plant on their west coast journey and her attempts at finding the best conditions in which Hydrastis would grow.
Recognized for her contributions to chemistry by the American Chemical Society in 1940, she was one of ten women whose work was acknowledged in this way.
Written by Angela Goad