Ruth Hubbard

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Ruth Hubbard
Ruth Wald photo.jpg
Born Ruth Hoffmann
(1924-03-03)March 3, 1924
Vienna, Austria
Died September 1, 2016(2016-09-01) (aged 92)
Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.
Alma mater Radcliffe College
Spouse(s) Frank Hubbard (m. 1942–51)
George Wald (m. 1958–97)
Children Elijah Wald
Deborah Hannah Wald
Scientific career
Institutions Harvard University

Ruth Hubbard (March 3, 1924 – September 1, 2016) was a professor of biology at Harvard University, where she was the first woman to hold a tenured professorship position in biology.[1][2]

During her active research career from the 1940s to the 1960s, she made important contributions to the understanding of the biochemistry and photochemistry of vision in vertebrates and invertebrates.[1] In 1967, she and Wald shared the Paul Karrer Gold Medal for their work in this area.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

In 1924, Hubbard was born Ruth Hoffmann in Vienna, Austria[3] and escaped Nazism as a teenager.[4] With her family, she moved to the Boston area and she became a biologist.[1] She graduated from Radcliffe College in 1944, earning an A.B. in biochemical sciences.[4]

Scientific career[edit]

As a research fellow at Harvard in the years after World War II, she worked under George Wald, investigating the biochemistry of retinal and retinol.[5] Wald shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1967 for his discoveries about how the eye works.[6] She received a Ph.D. in biology from Radcliffe in 1950, and in 1952, a Guggenheim fellowship at the Carlsberg Laboratory in Copenhagen, Denmark.[4]

Hubbard made many important contributions to the visual sciences but her single most important was the fact that visual excitation is initiated by a chemical rearrangement of the visual pigment (rhodopsin) which is called a cis-trans isomerization.[7][8][9][10] She showed that this is the only direct action of light on the visual system.[10][8] She also identified the specific intermediate in the visual cycle (called metarhodopsin2) that leads to downstream effects, that culminate in a light-activated neural signaling to the brain[10][11][12] Hubbard also described the bleaching and resynthesis of the rhodopsin molecule each time a photon is absorbed.[13][14][15][16] She also discovered retinene isomerase (now called RPE65) that converts all-trans retinal (the post-illumination form) back into 11-cis retinal. She also studied the visual pigments in several new species.[17][18][19] Her early work focused on the basic properties of rhodopsin, which is a combination of the chromophore (retinal) and a protein called opsin, which is reutilized in the resynthesis of rhodopsin. Hubbard published at least 31 scientific papers devoted to vision. Like her husband, she remained scientifically active until about 1975, and she made an excellent scientific presentation of her husband's work at a symposium in his honor. George Wald was 18 years older than Hubbard and he died in 1996.

Social commentary and political activity[edit]

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Hubbard's interests shifted away from research science toward social and political issues. In her book The Politics of Women's Biology, she wrote that she had been a "devout scientist" from 1947 until the late 1960s, but the Vietnam War and the women's liberation movement led her to change her priorities. Also, after being promoted in 1973 from what she called the "typical women's ghetto" of "research associate and lecturer" positions to a tenured faculty position at Harvard, she felt increased freedom to pursue new interests.[20]

She became known as a strong critic of sociobiology. Geneticist Richard Lewontin has said, "No one has been a more influential critic of the biological theory of women's inequality than Ruth Hubbard."[21] In a 2006 essay entitled "Race and Genes," she wrote:

It is beyond comprehension, in this century which has witnessed holocausts of ethnic, racial, and religious extermination in many parts of our planet, perpetrated by peoples of widely different cultural and political affiliations and beliefs, that educated persons—scholars and popularizers alike—can come forward to argue, as though in complete innocence and ignorance of our recent history, that nothing could be more interesting and worthwhile than to sort out the "racial" or "ethnic" components of our thoroughly mongrelized species so as to ascertain the root identity of each and everyone of us. And where to look for that identity if not in our genes?[22]

Commentary on gender and science[edit]

In her essay "Science and Science Criticism," published in 2001 as a chapter of The Gender and Science Reader, Hubbard iterates that she is a scientist and states that "[n]ature is part of history and culture", but not vice versa. She goes on to say that scientists are largely unable to grasp the concept of nature being part of life--- noting how she needed several years to understand the statement. Going into her scientific history, the narrator mentions how she originally never questioned how her efforts fit into society. Narrowing her focus, she exposits that the Vietnam-era women's rights and women's liberation movements helped teach her of the roles of science in society.[23]

She continues forth with the various means of debate for both sides. One notable instance from men is when they revive various old and unfounded biological theories on women to justify the typical subservient positions of the female gender. Hubbard even refers to the means of debate as "breathing new life" into old theories and assumptions. She further exposits the issues revolving around gender equality that were mainly brought to her attention by how she and her colleagues suddenly started getting promoted from their "ghetto" lab positions right into proper titles. She promptly stresses that "[she believes] the subject of women's biology is profoundly political", explaining away the book's title as she does so. Proceeding onward her desire to go beyond "defining [women as a whole] as victims of male power and dominance," and pushes for women everywhere to show independence and individuality while learning to accept and embrace the biology that's continuously used by men to undermine them. To follow up, she goes on to talk about women's health activists re-educating women on the functions of their body and goes on to encourage women to use the re-education to attain great power by eliminating the footholds of male misinformation and misrepresentation of their bodies.[23]

The essay asserts that women scientists must ultimately and paradoxically turn away from the sciences to make their stand against male supremacy as opposed to the many female and feminist poets, novelists, and artists that can illustrate their points clearly and easily. She notes that politics seems to vanish within the sciences, exemplifying this point by noting social classes aren't a specific category listed under US health studies. The point she makes is that social and political realities can be blended or integrated subtly into all mediums. The subtlety of the integration ultimately creates great difficulty in discerning fact from prejudice. In addition, artists, novelists, and poets can compose their works without being victim to review under the funding agencies that makes the use of scientific fact tedious and less effective. The author leads in to surmise that the issues around women's rights must be raised and brought into public focus. After bringing up how science integrates itself into culture, she exemplifies the point by noting the prominence of biological terms in historical terminology and alluringly points out a biologist's tendency to place humanity above all other animals--- not unlike how men view women and their desire for equality. She raises the question of whether or not women can improve the sciences but makes an attempt to bring into attention her belief that women can make an impact. Hubbard closes by saying that scientists never want their work to be forgotten and lost, and that she sides with feminism for political insight and analytic testing on the scientific assumptions about women.[23]

Personal life[edit]

Hubbard and Wald in 1967

She was married to Frank Hubbard from 1942 to 1951.[4] In 1958, she married Wald[4] and had two children: a son, musician and music historian Elijah Wald, and a daughter, attorney Deborah Wald.[5] Hubbart had two grandchildren.

Partial bibliography[edit]

Selected articles[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d "Ruth Hubbard". Cambridge Forum Speakers 1970–1990. Harvard Square Library. Archived from the original on April 5, 2012. Retrieved November 29, 2009. 
  2. ^ Holloway, M. (1995) Profile: Ruth Hubbard – Turning the Inside Out, Scientific American 272(6), 49–50.
  3. ^ "Hubbard, Ruth, 1924–. Papers of Ruth Hubbard, 1920–2007". President and Fellows of Harvard College. Retrieved January 26, 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c d e "Ruth Hubbard". HowStuffWorks (Discovery Communications). Retrieved January 27, 2011. 
  5. ^ a b Dowling, John E. (2000). "George Wald". Biographical Memoirs. Volume 78. Washington: National Academies Press. pp. 299–317. ISBN 9780309070355. 
  6. ^ "How to Think About Science: Episode 19 – Ruth Hubbard". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation via Public Radio Exchange (PRX). Retrieved January 27, 2011. 
  7. ^ Wald, George; Brown, Paul K.; Hubbard, Ruth; Oroshnik, William (1956). "Hindered cis isomers of vitamin A and retinene: The structure of the neo-B isomer". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 41 (7): 438–451. PMC 528115Freely accessible. PMID 16589696. 
  8. ^ a b Hubbard, Ruth; Brown, Paul K.; Kropf, Allen (1959). "Action of light on visual pigments". Nature. 183 (4659): 442–446. Bibcode:1959Natur.183..442H. doi:10.1038/183442a0. 
  9. ^ Hubbard, Ruth; Kropf, Allen (1959). "Molecular aspects of visual excitation". Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 81 (2): 388–398. Bibcode:1959NYASA..81..388H. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.1959.tb49321.x. 
  10. ^ a b c Kropf, Allen; Brown, Paul K.; Hubbard, Ruth (1959). "Lumi- and meta-rhodopsins of squid and octopus". Nature. 183 (4659): 446–8. PMID 13632750. 
  11. ^ Matthews, Robert G.; Hubbard, Ruth; Brown, Paul K.; Wald, George (1963). "Tautomeric forms of metarhodopsin". The Journal of General Physiology. 47: 215–239. PMC 2195338Freely accessible. PMID 14080814. 
  12. ^ Fung, B.K.; Hurley, J.B.; Styer, Lubert (1981). "Flow of information in the light-triggered cyclic nucleotide cascade of vision". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 78 (1): 152–156. PMC 319009Freely accessible. PMID 6264430. 
  13. ^ Hubbard, Ruth (1951). "The mechanism of rhodopsin synthesis". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 37 (2): 69–79. Bibcode:1951PNAS...37...69H. doi:10.1073/pnas.37.2.69. PMC 1063306Freely accessible. PMID 14808167. 
  14. ^ Hubbard, Ruth (1956). "Retinene isomerase". The Journal of General Physiology. 39 (6): 935–956. PMC 2147571Freely accessible. PMID 13346046. 
  15. ^ Kropf, Allen; Hubbard, Ruth (1958). "The mechanism of bleaching rhodopsin". Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 74 (2): 266–280. Bibcode:1959NYASA..74..266K. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.1958.tb39550.x. PMID 13627857. 
  16. ^ Hubbard, Ruth (1958). "Bleaching of rhodopsin by light and by heat". Nature. 181 (4616): 1126. Bibcode:1958Natur.181.1126H. doi:10.1038/1811126a0. PMID 13541381. 
  17. ^ Wald, George; Hubbard, Ruth (1957). "Visual pigment of a decapod crustacean: The lobster". Nature. 180 (4580): 278–280. Bibcode:1957Natur.180..278W. doi:10.1038/180278a0. 
  18. ^ Hubbard, Ruth; Wald, George (1960). "Visual pigment of the horseshoe crab, Limulus polyphemus". Nature. 186 (4720): 212–215. Bibcode:1960Natur.186..212H. doi:10.1038/186212b0. 
  19. ^ Sperling, Linda; Hubbard, Ruth (1975). "Squid retinochrome". The Journal of General Physiology. 65 (2): 235–251. PMC 2214869Freely accessible. PMID 235007. 
  20. ^ Ruth Hubbard (1990), The Politics of Women's Biology, Rutgers University Press. pp. 1–2. ISBN 0-8135-1490-8.
  21. ^ Ruth Hubbard, Harvard University Department of the History of Science, web content accessed July 27, 2011
  22. ^ Ruth Hubbard (June 7, 2006), Race & Genes.
  23. ^ a b c Ruth Hubbard (2001). "Science and Science Criticism". In Muriel Lederman, Ingrid Bartsch. The Gender and Science Reader. Psychology Press. pp. 49–51. ISBN 9780415213585. 

External links[edit]