Margaret Pittman

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Dr. Margaret Pittman (1901–1995) was a bacteriologist at the Laboratory of Biological Product, Division of Biologics Standards at the U.S. National Institutes of Health whose work on pertussis led to the development of an improved vaccination against whooping cough. Pittman was also the first female to lead a National Institute of Health laboratory; she was appointed Chief of this laboratory in 1952. While at the NIH Pittman was concerned primarily with the development of potency assays and the correlation of lab assays with human efficacy, especially with pertussis, typhoid and cholera vaccines.

Margaret Pittman was born on January 20, 1901 near Prairie Grove, Arkansas. Her father, Dr. James Pittman, was a physician and young Margaret would often help her father in his practice. She attended Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas for her undergraduate studies. In 1923 she graduated at the top of her class with a BA in biology and mathematics and started teaching at Galloway College in Searcy, Arkansas. She then went to the University of Chicago and in 1926 received a Master's degree in bacteriology and then went on to earn her Ph.D. in 1929. The 1918-19 influenza pandemic geared her studies toward respiratory infections and she went on to work as an assistant scientist at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research for 1928-1934. Due to a lack of funds at the Rockefeller Institute, she was forced to get a job at the New York State Department of Health for a few years. In 1936 she started at NIH working with her mentor from University of Chicago, Sara E. Branham. Pittman stayed at NIH until she was forced to retire at age 70 in 1971.

During her prolific career Pittman was involved with a large number of panels on biological standardization including the World Health Organization Expert Committee on Biological Standardization, the U.S. Pharmacopeia Panel on Sterility and again with the Panel of Biological Indicators, the Commission on Immunization of the Armed Forces Epidemiological Board and the International Association of Biological Standardization. She was also a long-term member of several professional organizations, such as the American Society of Microbiology where she served as President of the Washington Branch from 1949-1950.

Pittman published over one-hundred scientific articles from 1930-1993 and was the recipient of numerous awards, including an honorary LL.D. from Hendrix College, a Superior Service Award in 1963 and a Distinguished Service Award in 1967 from the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, the Federal Woman's Award in 1970, and a Professional Achievement Award from the University of Chicago Alumni Association.

Retirement didn't slow Pittman down any as she was invited to stay on at the newly created Bureau of Biologics at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a guest worker. Freed from administrative duties Pittman traveled extensively, serving as guest scientist in nine countries. In addition, she was appointed a WHO consultant and spent three months each in Cairo and Madrid.

Dr. Pittman died on August 19, 1995 in Cheverly, Maryland and is buried in Prairie Grove, Arkansas.

A collection of her papers is held at the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland. [1]


  1. ^ "Margaret Pittman Papers 1921-1993". National Library of Medicine. 

External links[edit]

  • Obituary of Margaret Pittman. Northwest Arkansas Times. September 1, 1995, p. 2A