Mary Letitia Caldwell

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Mary Letitia Caldwell
Born(1890-12-18)December 18, 1890
DiedJuly 1, 1972(1972-07-01) (aged 81)
Alma materWestern College for Women, Columbia University
AwardsGarvan–Olin Medal (1960)
Scientific career
InstitutionsColumbia University

Mary Letitia Caldwell (December 18, 1890 – July 1, 1972)[1] was an American chemist. Growing up she valued education and strived to achieve. She was an instructor at Western College teaching chemistry. She was known for being unique and descriptive along with being family orientated. Maria was in a wheel chair due to muscular disability. Most of her work centered on amylase, a starch enzyme, most notably finding a method for purifying crystalline porcine pancreatic amylase. She spent sixty years doing this.[1][2]

Early life and education[edit]

Caldwell was born in Bogota, Colombia, to American missionaries. She earned her bachelor's degree from the Western College for Women in 1913 and taught at the school until 1918. She earned her M.A. and Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1919 and 1921. She suffered from a progressive muscular disorder which made her wheelchair bound for life. She came from a family of five siblings, all of which valued higher education. She received her BSN in 1913 from an all women's college Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio. She then became an instructor for that school until 1918 when she went to further her studies at Columbia University. In 1919 she received her M.S. and her PhD in 1921 from Columbia University. She then became the first women instructor in the chemistry department at Columbia University. In 1951 she retired from teaching and began her studies in enzymes, specifically amylase.[3]


After graduating from graduate school at Columbia University, Caldwell became the first Chemistry professor at Columbia University from 1948 to 1949.[4] She became the only female member of the senior faculty in the chemistry department,[1] becoming the first woman to attain the rank of assistant professor at Columbia.[5] She attained the rank of full professor in 1948.[1]

Caldwell had a progressive muscular disability, and was confined to a wheelchair by 1960. Despite this, her 9th floor office at her research facility, Chandler Hall, never changed.[6] In 1960 she received the Garvan Medal from the American Chemical Society, an honor awarded annually to a US female chemist.[4]

During her time as a chemist, Caldwell did research on a type of enzyme called amylase. She spent a lot of her time trying to purify enzymes because she was not satisfied with the commercial material. She attempted to find a more pure form of amylase and she was able to develop a method for isolating crystalline pancreatic enzymes.[4]

Awards and accomplishments[edit]

After receiving her M.S. and Ph.D. at Columbia University in 1919 and 1921, respectively, Caldwell was hired as an instructor in 1922.[7] She eventually became the first female professor of Chemistry in 1948, and the only female senior faculty member of the Chemistry department at Columbia University at the time. [8][9]

In 1960, Caldwell was awarded the Garvin Medal by the American Chemistry Society, for her research in amylase. The Garvin Medal specifically recognizes women who have a huge contribution to the field of Chemistry. Caldwell developed a method to isolate crystalline pancreatic enzymes, that is now used by laboratories all throughout America and Europe. [8]


  1. ^ a b c d Svoronos, Soraya (1993). "Mary Letitia Caldwell". In Grinstein, Louise S.; Rose, Rose K.; Rafailovich, Miriam H. (eds.). Women in Chemistry and Physics: A Biobibliographic Sourcebook. Greenwood Press. pp. 72–6.
  2. ^ "Mary L. Caldwell of Columbia Dies". The New York Times. July 3, 1972. p. 20.
  3. ^ "Mary Caldwell". Retrieved 20 November 2014.
  4. ^ a b c "Mary Letitia Caldwell". Retrieved 20 November 2014.
  5. ^ "Women at Columbia". Columbia University. March 2004. Retrieved July 7, 2011.
  6. ^ Barbosa, Patty. "Mary Letitia Caldwell". CSU Pomona. Retrieved 15 October 2013.
  7. ^ Nina Matheny Roscher; Phillip L. Ammons. "Early Women Chemists of the Northeast" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-05-03.
  8. ^ a b Barbosa, Patty. "Mary Letitia Caldwell". CSU Pomona. Retrieved 23 April 2014.
  9. ^ c. "Dead Scientist of the Week". Retrieved 20 November 2014.

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