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The Pioneer Of Leprosy Treatment: Alice Augusta Ball

A discovery in medicine by an African American young woman but was denied credit.

Alice A. Ball

Alice A. Ball

Alice A. Ball

Alice A. Ball

Early Life Of Alice Ball

Alice Augusta Ball was born on 24 July 1892 in Seattle, Washington, to James P. Ball and Laura. She had two brothers, Robert and William, and a sister Addie. Her father was a lawyer and her mother a photographer. In 1903 the family moved to Hawaii for her grandfather's arthritis hoping the warm weather would help him. However, he died shortly after the move. So the family returned to Seattle.

Alice graduated high school in 1910 in Seattle and obtained multiple degrees from the University of Washington and the College of Hawaii (later called the University of Hawaii). In 1915she graduated with an M.S. degree in chemistry, making her the first African American to graduate with an M.S. from the College of Hawaii.

She was offered a teaching and research position at the age of twenty-three. She began working extensively to develop a treatment for Hansens Disease. Hansen's disease is commonly referred to as leprosy. A college of hers, Dr. Harry T. Hollmann, who was an assistant surgeon at Kalihi Hospital, suggested using the Chaulmoogra tree. She discovered that using the oil from the tree; she could isolate the oil into a fatty acid component that would allow her to manipulate the oil into an injectable form.

The method she discovered was so successful it was used for over thirty years until sulfone drugs were found. After that, it was used worldwide, including at the Kalaupapa Leper Colony at Molokai, Hawaii. She named her discovery the Ball Method.

Hansens Disease And Leprosy

Leprosy was a devastating disease and highly contagious throughout history. It was caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae that can cause crippling nerve disease and large skin lesions. For years patients suffered and were isolated to live in colonies in poverty. Unfortunately, leprosy is still found globally, and in the U.S., the CDC estimates 150-250 are diagnosed each year.

Then, a young woman, African American, Alice A. Ball, found a treatment to save thousands from the disease and isolation. And she was only twenty-three years old yet never given credit for her discovery until years later. Her discovery was taken by the president of the University of Hawaii, Dr.Arthur L. Dean.

Alice's name should never be forgotten.

Chaulmoogra Tree

Chaulmoogra Tree

Molokai Leper Colony Hawaii

Molokai Leper Colony Hawaii

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Leps In 14th Century

Leps In 14th Century

A Lepers Face

A Lepers Face

A Tragic Lab Accident

While teaching a lab class at the university, Alice somehow inhaled chlorine gas, making her severely ill. This happened before safety measures of exhaust fans in labs were mandatory. She took a leave of absence from the university and returned to the family in Seattle to recuperate. Sadly she died on December 31, 1916. She would not ever see the impact of her discovery for the treatment of leprosy.

After her death, Dr. Arthur L. Dean took over her work and published it as his discovery, even renaming it the Dean Method, even though it wasn't his. By 1921 he was mass-producing the treatment to be shipped worldwide.

In 1922, six years after her death, Dr. Harry T. Hollmann published a paper giving Ball the long-deserved credit. In 2000, the University of Hawaii placed a bronze plaque in front of a Chaulmoogra tree to honor Ball. In addition, the former Lt. Governor, Mazie Hiron, declared February 29 as Alice Ball Day and posthumously awarded her the Regents Medal of Distinction.

On-campus is a hall named Dean Hall, but there's no hall named Ball.

It was remarkable that a woman, especially an African American, made such an achievement despite all she had to endure from racism and gender problems. In 1927, university professor Dr. Katheryn Takara researched Black women in Hawaii and ran across Alice Ball's name and brought it to the limelight. As a result of Ball's discovery, 16 million people have been cured of leprosy. The World Health Organization provides complete treatment for all people with leprosy.


Bronze Plaque To Honor Alice A. Ball

Bronze Plaque To Honor Alice A. Ball

Poster Of Alice A. Ball

Poster Of Alice A. Ball

Sources Used

https://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alice_Ball

https://biography.com/scientist/alice-ball

https://webmd.com/skin-problems

https://cdc.gov/leprosy

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