Alice Ball was born on July 24th, 1892, in Seattle Washington to parents James Presley and Laura Ball. The Ball family was a middle class American family; her father was a newspaper editor, photographer and lawyer, while her grandfather was also a famous photographer. Ball moved to Hawaii with her family in 1903, in 1904 she suffered the loss of her grandfather James Ball Sr. After the passing of her grandfather her family moved back to Seattle in 1905 to be closer to their immediately family. In 1910 Ball graduated from a Seattle High School and began attending the University of Washington to study chemistry. She earned two degrees from the University of Washington, one in pharmaceutical chemistry and one in pharmacy. Ball used her college time to publish a 10-page article in the Journal of the American Chemical Society; her article was titled “Benzoylations in Ether Solution.”
After graduating from the University of Washington, she was offered scholarships to attend the University of California Berkley and the University of Hawaii. Ball decided to return to Hawaii to earn her master’s degree in chemistry, which she earned in 1915. Ball earning her master’s made her the first woman and first African-American to graduate from the University of Hawaii with a master’s degree. During her time at Hawaii Ball investigated the chemical makeup, and active ingredient of Piper methysticum for her master’s thesis. During the development of her thesis, Ball was pursued by Dr. Harry T. Hollmann an assistant surgeon at Kalihi Hospital in Hawaii. Dr. Hollmann was seeking Ball’s assistance in developing a method to isolate the active chemical compound in chaulmoogra oil. Chaulmoogra oil was not popular because of its taste and it caused people to have an upset stomach.
Ball was able to isolate the ethyl esters of the fatty acids in the oil so it can be injected into someone. On December 31st, 1916 Alice Ball died at the age of 24 before she could publish her research results. Author L. Dean a fellow chemist at the University of Hawaii continued Ball’s research, he produced large amounts of the injectable oil extract and used it on patients. In 1918 a report was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association stating that 78 patients were treated and were able to leave the hospital and resume their normal lives. Alice Ball developed a treatment for Hansen’s disease which was used from 1918 to 1940. In the year 2000 the University of Hawaii honored Ball by dedicating a plaque in her honor and placing it on the only Chaulmoogra tree on the campus. That same day the Lieutenant Governor of Hawaii declared February 29th “Alice Ball Day.” In 2007 Ball was honored by the University of Hawaii with a medal of distinction. Though her life was short it was extraordinary because of the great accomplishments she gained in her life. She used her time on earth wisely and gave life her all. Alice Ball is an example of success and greatness for us all to follow. Mrs. Alice Augusta Ball, we stand on your shoulders.
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