Gladys Lounsbury Hobby

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Gladys Lounsbury Hobby
Born(1910-11-19)19 November 1910
Died4 July 1993(1993-07-04) (aged 82)
Scientific career
FieldsMicrobiology, Medicine

Gladys Lounsbury Hobby (November 19, 1910 – July 4, 1993), born in New York City, was an American microbiologist whose research played a key role in the development and understanding of antibiotics. Her work took penicillin from a laboratory experiment to a mass-produced drug during World War II.[1]

Life and career[edit]

Hobby was born in the Washington Heights neighbourhood in New York City, one of two daughters of Theodore Y. Hobby and Flora R. Lounsbury.[2] Hobby graduated from Vassar College in 1931. She earned her and Ph.D. in bacteriology from Columbia University in 1935.[3] She wrote her doctoral thesis on the medical uses of nonpathogenic organisms.[2]

Hobby worked for Presbyterian Hospital and the Columbia Medical School from 1934 to 1943, during which time she collaborated with Dr. Karl Meyer, a biochemist, and Dr. Martin Henry Dawson, a clinician and associate professor of medicine, on determining diseases caused by hemolytic streptococci and later on refining penicillin.[1][4][5] During this time, Hobby also worked for Presbyterian Hospital in New York City.[3] Hobby left Columbia University in 1944 to work for Pfizer Pharmaceuticals in New York where she researched streptomycin and other antibiotics.[6]

In 1959, Hobby left Pfizer to specialize in chronic infectious diseases as chief of research at the Veterans Administration Hospital in East Orange, New Jersey. She also served as an assistant clinical research professor in public health at Cornell University Medical College.[1] In 1972 she founded the monthly publication, Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, and continued to edit it for eight years. She retired from her main career in 1977. In retirement Hobby wrote over 200 articles, working as a consultant and freelance science writer. She also published a book, Penicillin: Meeting the Challenge,[7] in 1985, in which she chronicled penicillin's journey and compared it to the Manhattan project in its importance to the war effort.[1]

Hobby died of a heart attack in 1993 at her home in a Pennsylvania retirement community.[1]

Key contributions and impact[edit]

Hobby is recognized for her work in creating a form of penicillin that was effective on human hosts. In 1940, Hobby and her colleagues, Dr. Karl Meyer and Dr. Martin Henry Dawson, wrote to Howard Florey and Ernst Chain to procure a sample of penicillin. They naively decided to make some penicillin and soon became experts in the fermentation process, and began refining it into a drug. Hobby, Meyer, and Dawson performed the first tests of penicillin on humans in 1940 and 1941, before presenting at the American Society for Clinical Investigation.[4] They discovered that penicillin was a powerful germ-killer that reduced the severity of infectious diseases and made procedures such as organ transplantation and open-heart surgery possible.[6] Their findings received media coverage, which helped attract funding from the United States Government to mass-produce penicillin during World War II, saving the lives of many soldiers.[6]

At Pfizer, Hobby did extensive early work on Terramycin[8] and Viomycin,[9] used for the treatment of tuberculosis.


  • Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy (Editor), Journal (1972 - 1980)
  • Primary Drug Resistance - Continuing Study of Drug Resistance in a Veteran Population within the United States, American Review of Respiratory Diseases 110, No. 1 (1974)
  • Penicillin: Meeting the Challenge, Yale University Press (1985)
  • "The Drug That Changed the World", Journal of the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Columbia University Volume 25, No. 1 (Winter 2005)


  1. ^ a b c d e Saxon, Wolfgang (July 9, 1993). "Gladys Hobby, 82, Pioneer in Bringing Penicillin to Public". New York Times. Retrieved 13 May 2016.
  2. ^ a b Ware, Susan (2004). Notable American Women - A Biographical Dictionary: Completing the Twentieth Century. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-01488-6.
  3. ^ a b 1964-, Oakes, Elizabeth H. (2002-01-01). International encyclopedia of women scientists. Facts on File. ISBN 978-0816043811. OCLC 45835614.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ a b "The Miracle Cure". Vassar College. Archived from the original on 13 March 2017. Retrieved 13 May 2016.
  5. ^ Oatman, Eric (Winter 2005). "The Drug That Changed the World". Volume 25, No. 1. Journal of the College of Physicians and Surgeons: The College of Physicians & Surgeons of Columbia University. Archived from the original on 11 December 2016. Retrieved 9 December 2016.
  6. ^ a b c "Gladys Hobby (1910-1993)". National Women's History Museum. Archived from the original on 12 June 2010. Retrieved 13 May 2016.
  7. ^ Hobby, Gladys (1985). Penicillin: Meeting the Challenge. Connecticut: Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300032253.
  8. ^ Saxon, Wolfgang (1993-07-09). "Gladys Hobby, 82, Pioneer in Bringing Penicillin to Public". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-10-11.
  9. ^ "Gladys Hobby - Vassar College Encyclopedia - Vassar College". Retrieved 2016-10-11.