Alice Ball discovered the first successful treatment for Hansen’s disease (leprosy). The treatment is known as the “ball method”
Alice Augusta Ball was born July 24, 1892. She as an African American chemist who created the most effective treatment for leprosy known as the “Ball Method.” She was also the African American and woman for that matter to obtain a master’s degree from the University of Hawaii.
Ball came from a middle-class and well off. Her father was a newspaper editor of Colored Citizen, photographer and a lawyer. Her mother was a photographer also. Her grandfather was a famous photographer and one of the first african americans to make use of daguerreotypy. Interestingly, both of her parents listed as “White” on her birth certificate. This was attempt to reduce racism against their daughter would face.
Ball studied chemistry at the University of Washington and earned a bachelor’s degree in pharmaceutical chemistry in 1912 and another bachelors in the science of pharmacy two years later.
She studied chaulmoogra oil and it chemical properties. Chaulmoogra oil was the best treatment for leprosy for hundreds of years, until Ball came along and developed a much more effective injectable form.
Unfortunately, her untimely death at just 24, she was unable to publish her groundbreaking findings. Arthur L. Dean, a chemist and later the president of the University of Hawaii, branched off of her work, published the findings, and began producing large quantities of the injectable chaulmoogra extract. He went on to publish the findings without giving Alice Ball credit and named this discovery after himself.
He attempted to correct this injustice many years after Ball’s death. In 1922 he published a paper giving credit to Ball. She still remained forgotten in the scientific record, unfortunately. Professors at the University of Hawaii, searched the archives and found Ball’s research. After many decades they were able to bring her work and achievements to light. They gave her the credit she deserved.