Alice Evans

Women in STEM
Women in STEM
Alice Evans

Birth: January 29, 1881

Death: September 5, 1975

Specialty: Microbiology

Major Contributions:  

Discovery of Brucella bacteria in raw milk

first female president of the American Society of Bacteriologists 

National Women’s Hall of Fame

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Thanks to pasteurization, we know we can usually pick up a glass of milk without worrying about bacteria and disease.  But without the work of Alice Evans, that wouldn’t be the case.

Alice Evans was one of the first scientists to propose the connection between the Bacillus abortus bacterium in cows being passed through raw milk to humans in the form of brucellosis, also known as undulant fever. She first published her findings in 1918 but her conclusions were openly disregarded, because she was a woman and didn’t have a Ph.D.  One detractor said that if her findings were real then someone smarter than her would have already found the connection. Discouraged by the criticism, Evans began to doubt her own work and with the intention of being helpful in the war efforts she shifted to working at the precursor of the National Institutes of Health researching epidemic meningitis and the Spanish Flu. 

While working in the lab she was infected with undulant fever in 1922 and suffered from the symptoms for many years. While she had temporarily walked away from her original research in brucellosis, others had picked up on her findings and began to see the wisdom in her work. Doctors had been able to trace multiple cases of undulant fever to raw cow’s milk and in 1923 Evans wrote another paper defending her original statements.  Due to her persistence and the continued work of others in the field, the dairy industry reluctantly began to accept the connections between raw milk and bacteria and started pasteurizing milk after which there began to be a decline in the  incidence of brucellosis. 

 Elected in 1927 as the president of the American Society of Bacteriologists, she served as the first female in this role and her work was recognized by the awarding of two honorary doctoral degrees in the 1930s. Evans continued to work at NIH, often having to put her work with brucellosis aside when large outbreaks of other diseases came up including influenza and Streptococcus.   Retiring in 1945 she then presented lectures on the career development of women, especially in scientific fields and continued to push for better understandings of brucellosis and its long term impact on the human body. Evans passed away in 1975 but her contributions helped to almost eliminate a once common and painful disease in humans.

Written by Angela Goad


Wikipedia: Alice Catherine Evans

National Women’s Hall of Fame: Alice Evans

Meet Alice Catherine Evans…She’s Why Our Milk Is Safe To Drink Alice Evans

See Also:

Alice Evans: An Early Woman Scientist at NIH

The Visionaries: Alice Catherine Evans (SciTech Now, YouTube)

CDC: Raw Milk Questions and Answers

National Women’s History Museum: Alice Evans (Archived)

Meet Alice Catherine Evans…She’s Why Our Milk Is Safe To Drink (Archived)