Helen Dean King

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Helen Dean King (1869-1955) was an American biologist. Born at Owego, N. Y., she graduated from Vassar College in 1892 and in 1899 received her doctorate in philosophy from Bryn Mawr College, where she was fellow and student assistant in biology from 1897 to 1904. She taught physiology at Miss Baldwin's School, Bryn Mawr, from 1899 to 1907, was research fellow at the University of Pennsylvania in 1906-08, and served as assistant in anatomy in 1908-09 and as an associate after 1909 at the Wistar Institute. She was also an assistant at Woods Hole, Mass. Her investigations dealt largely with problems of sex determination.

At Wistar, Helen Dean King worked to help breed the Wistar rat, a strain of genetically homogeneous white rats that became widely used in biological research. Her scientific work focused on inbreeding using experimental data collected from standardized laboratory rats to elucidate problems in human heredity. The meticulous care with which she carried on her inbreeding experiments assured that her results were dependable and her theoretical explanations credible. By using her nearly homozygous rats as desired commodities, she also was granted access to venues and people otherwise unavailable to her as a woman. King’s scientific career was made possible through her life experiences. She earned a doctorate from Bryn Mawr College under Thomas Hunt Morgan and spent a productive career at the Wistar Institute of Anatomy and Biology in Philadelphia where she had access to the experimental subjects which made her career possible. In this paper I examine King’s work on inbreeding, her participation in the debates over eugenics, her position at the Wistar Institute, her status as a woman working with mostly male scientists, and her involvement with popular science.[1]

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