Ida A. Bengtson

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Ida A. Bengtson
Ida Bengston.jpg
Alma materUniversity of Nebraska, University of Chicago
Known forclassification of Clostridium botulinum, standards for gas gangrene toxins and anti-toxins
Scientific career
InstitutionsUnited States Public Health Service's Hygienic Laboratory

Ida Albertina Bengtson (1881 – 1952)[1] was an American bacteriologist, known for her work with anaerobic organisms. She became the first woman hired to work in the United States Public Health Service's Hygienic Laboratory, at the National Institutes of Health.


Ida Bengtson was born in Nebraska in 1881 as the daughter of Swedish immigrants. She earned her BA degree from the University of Nebraska in 1903.[1] In 1911, she entered the University of Chicago to study bacteriology, and earned her master's degree in 1913 and her PhD in 1919, both from the University of Chicago.[1] While studying, she also worked as a bacteriologist in the Chicago Department of Health in 1915. In 1916 she became the first woman hired to work in the United States Public Health Service's Hygienic Laboratory, at the National Institutes of Health.[1][2]

Bengtson's most significant scientific achievement was in regards to an organism called Clostridium botulinum, which causes a paralytic disease in chicken. This organism was first recognized and isolated in 1895 by Emile van Ermengem from home cured ham implicated in a botulism outbreak.[3] The isolate was originally named Bacillus botulinus, after the Latin word for sausage, botulus. ("Sausage poisoning" was a common problem in 18th- and 19th-century Germany, and was most likely caused by botulism.)[4] However, isolates from subsequent outbreaks were always found to be anaerobic spore formers, so Bengtson proposed that the organism be placed in the genus Clostridium as the Bacillus genus was restricted to aerobic spore-forming rods.[5]

She is also known for preparing, during 1935-1936, the standard for gas gangrene toxins and anti-toxins.[6] One of Bengtson’s other research interests was typhus, an exceedingly dangerous interest and she, like many other typhus researchers, eventually contracted the disease, although she recovered fully.[6] Her chapter on the family “Rickettsiaceae” appeared in the sixth edition of the influential Bergey’s Manual of Determinative Bacteriology after her official retirement.[1] She was awarded the Typhus Medal of the American Typhus Commission in 1947.[7]


  1. ^ a b c d e Lindenmann, Jean (2005). "Women scientists in typhus research during the first half of the twentieth century". Gesnerus. Basel: Swiss Society for the History of Medicine and Sciences. 62 (3–4): 257–272. PMID 16689082.
  2. ^ Harden, Victoria A. "WWI and the Ransdell Act of 1930". A Short History of the National Institutes of Health. Office Of History National Institutes Of Health, United States National Institutes of Health. Retrieved 12 September 2011.
  3. ^ E. van Ergmengem. 1897. Über einen neuen anaerobic Bacillus and seine Beziehungen Zum Botulismus. Zentralbl. Hyg. Infektionskr. 26:1–8.
  4. ^ Frank J. Erbguth. Historical notes on botulism, Clostridium botulinum, botulinum toxin, and the idea of the therapeutic use of the toxin. Movement Disorders. Volume 19, Issue S8, pages S2-S6, March 2004.
  5. ^ I. A. Bengston. 1924. Studies on organisms concerned as causative factors in botulism. Hyg. Lab. Bull. 136:101
  6. ^ a b "The Evening Independent - Google News Archive Search". Retrieved 2018-03-26.
  7. ^ "Rocky Mountain Laboratory Photographs - Dr. Ida A. Bengston". Retrieved 2018-03-26.