Why Chemist Gertrude Elion Fought for Science Education

Gertrude Elion Quote: “I hadn’t been aware that there were doors closed to me until I started knocking on them."
Gertrude Elion fought for her place in the lab to treat leukemia, AIDS, and herpes.
Illustration by Kirby Salvador.

Gertrude Elion (1918–1999)

Gertrude Elion was a renowned chemist whose work earned her a Nobel Prize in 1988. Born in New York City in 1918, Elion’s “insatiable thirst for knowledge” propelled her through academia, allowing her to graduate from Hunter College at age 19. At the time, most laboratories didn’t hire female chemists, so she worked as a substitute high school teacher while completing her master’s degree. World War II provided more opportunities for women in the workforce, and in 1944 she joined a lab that would later become GlaxoSmithKline. The work of Gertrude Elion and her team resulted in medications for leukemia, AIDS and herpes.

“I hadn’t been aware that there were doors closed to me until I started knocking on them.” — Gertrude Elion

This feature originally appeared in the Future issue. For more inspiring women, check out Grandma Moses’s story and our Women in History section.