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Encyclopedia of Arkansas Minute: Margaret Pittman

Margaret Pittman was born in Prairie Grove in 1901.

The daughter of a country doctor, she sometimes helped him by administering anesthesia or vaccinations. This led her to pursue a career in microbiology after receiving a 1929 doctorate from the University of Chicago.

Working as a research scientist at the Rockefeller Institute of Medical Research, Pittman’s work on bacteria gained her an international reputation before she was thirty. In 1943 she began seeking a vaccine for pertussis, or whooping cough. She helped develop international potency requirements that caused a dramatic drop in the disease’s mortality rate, and she later said “I consider this work one of my best accomplishments.”

From 1957 to 1971 she was the first woman to lead a major National Institutes of Health laboratory. After retiring, she worked as a consultant for the Institutes and the World Health Organization, operating across the globe. She died in 1995 and is buried in Prairie Grove Cemetery.

To learn more, visit EncyclopediaOfArkansas.net.