Elizabeth Hughes Gossett

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Elizabeth Hughes Gossett c. 1930

Elizabeth Hughes Gossett (August 19, 1907 – April 21, 1981), the daughter of U.S. politician Charles Evans Hughes, was the first American, and one of the first people in the world, treated with insulin for type 1 diabetes. She received over 42,000 insulin shots before she died in 1981.[1]

Early life[edit]

Elizabeth Hughes was born August 19, 1907 in the New York State Executive Mansion in Albany, New York, to Antoinette (Carter) and Charles Evans Hughes, who was Governor of New York at the time.

Elizabeth developed diabetes in 1918 at age 11. At the time, the life expectancy of a Type 1 diabetic without treatment was usually no more than a few months. Since it was unable to metabolize sugars, the diabetic body would instead begin to burn fats. The dependence on fat would eventually lead to acidosis, followed by coma and death. The only known treatment was a starvation diet, in which the caloric intake was reduced to a level that the patient could tolerate without showing sugar in the urine. If the diet was followed religiously, a diabetic could expect to live for a couple of years before eventually succumbing to an infectious disease in her malnourished state.[2]

In spring 1919, Elizabeth was brought to Dr. Frederick M. Allen at his special clinic, the Physiatric Institute in Morristown, New Jersey. Dr. Allen put Elizabeth on a strict diet and continued to monitor her condition over the next three years while she lived at home with a private nurse. Elizabeth was 4 feet 11.5 inches (1.511 m) and 75 pounds (34 kg) when she developed diabetes. Under diets that averaged 800 calories per day, her weight fell to 45 pounds (20 kg) by August 1922.[2]

From summer 1921 to spring 1922, a team at the University of Toronto succeeded in isolating the hormone insulin, which type 1 diabetics are unable to produce on their own. Elizabeth's mother contacted Canadian doctor Frederick Banting, who agreed to take her as a private patient. Elizabeth arrived in Toronto with her mother on August 15, 1922 and began receiving insulin from Dr. Banting. She recovered rapidly, and she was placed on a 2200-2400 calorie weight-gain diet within two weeks. She returned home to Washington, D.C. on Thanksgiving Day 1922.[2]

Marriage and children[edit]

Elizabeth returned to school in 1923 and graduated from Barnard College in 1929. In 1930 she married William T. Gossett, a lawyer who later served as the president of the American Bar Association (1968-9) as well as vice president and general counsel of the Ford Motor Company.[3] They lived in Bloomfield, Michigan and had two daughters and a son.[4]


Elizabeth Gossett was active in civic affairs in the Detroit area. She was a member of the board of trustees of Barnard College, one of the founding trustees of Oakland University, Rochester, a member of the Detroit Urban League, as well as a volunteer at the Merrill-Palmer Institute and at Michigan State University. She was best known as the founder of the Supreme Court Historical Society in 1972 and served as its president until 1979.


Elizabeth Gossett died of a heart attack on April 21, 1981 at the age of 73.[3] By the time of her death, she had received approximately 42,000 insulin injections over 58 years. Although her name had been prominently mentioned in the newspaper coverage of insulin in 1922, she later hid her diabetes from her friends and associates. She destroyed most of the material that documented her treatments, and even removed references to diabetes in her father's papers.[5]


The Hughes Gossett Awards, presented by the Supreme Court Historical Society, are named in her honor.[6] She was portrayed in the Canadian miniseries on the discovery of insulin, Glory Enough for All.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Abigail Zuger (October 4, 2010). "Rediscovering the First Miracle Drug". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-10-06. But not Elizabeth Hughes: she ran in the other direction, far from the headlines that briefly made her the most famous diabetic child in the United States. Although she received an estimated 42,000 insulin shots before she died in 1981 at the age of 74, she systematically destroyed most of the material documenting her illness, expunged all references to diabetes from her father’s papers, and occasionally even denied she had been ill as a child. 
  2. ^ a b c Bliss, Michael (1982). The Discovery of Insulin. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226058972. 
  3. ^ a b "Elizabeth H. Gossett, a Trustee of Barnard College, Is Dead at 73". New York Times. April 27, 1981. Retrieved 2010-10-06. Elizabeth Hughes Gossett, a trustee of Barnard College and founder of the Supreme Court Historical Society, died Saturday at Harper-Grace Hospital in Detroit. Mrs. Gossett, who lived in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., was 73 years old. Mrs. Gossett was the wife of William T. Gossett, a lawyer and former vice president and general counsel of the Ford Motor Company. Her father was Charles Evans Hughes, a former Chief Justice of the United States, and she was born in the Executive Mansion in Albany when he was Governor of New York. She was a graduate of Barnard College and was named a trustee in 1957. She also served as a director of the Barnard Alumnae Association and contributed to a history of the college. 
  4. ^ Family of Gossett
  5. ^ Hirsch, James S. (2006). Cheating Destiny: Living with Diabetes. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 9780618514618. 
  6. ^ Brozan, Nadine (June 7, 1995). "CHRONICLE". The New York Times. 

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