• Decrease font size
  • Return font size to normal
  • Increase font size
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

About FDA

  • Print
  • Share
  • E-mail

Women's History Month

Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics

American women have changed the landscape of scientific health research, medicine, and public health. In commemoration of Women’s History Month at FDA, we are highlighting the contributions of a number of pioneering women who made significant and long-lasting contributions to public health during their careers with the Food and Drug Administration.

About This Series

Featured Women

Marion J. Finkel (150px)
Marion J. Finkel: Leader in Orphan Product Development
Her work on the regulation of generic drugs and products for rare diseases helped make valuable treatments more available.

Read More...


Sharon Holston (150px)
Sharon Smith Holston: Administrative Leadership in Vital Agency Initiatives
She made lasting contributions in the areas of equal employment opportunity, agency management, and international programs.

Read More...


Frances Oldham Kelsey (Sm)
Frances Oldham Kelsey: Medical reviewer famous for averting a public health tragedy
Her vigilance and insistence on proof of safety prevented marketing of thalidomide in the U.S.

Read More...


Ruth L. Kirschstein (Sm)
Ruth L. Kirschstein: Early role in polio vaccine research
She conducted research that helped make polio and other vaccines safer and later served as deputy associate commissioner for science.

Read More...


Susan Ellenberg (150px)
Susan Ellenberg: Statistician with a commitment to product safety and efficacy
Her work during the AIDS epidemic helped speed approval of new treatments.

Read More...


Imogene Gollinger (150px)
Imogene Gollinger: First Female Field Inspector
Hired after the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, her role as an FDA inspector was a harbinger of expanded career opportunities for women.

Read More...


Jane Henney (150px)
Jane Henney: Physician and Commissioner of Food and Drugs
She was FDA’s first female Commissioner during an era of increased representation of women in the FDA workforce, including in leadership roles.

Read More...


Effie Alberta Read (150px)
Effie Alberta Read: Pioneer in the Laboratory
One of the few women in the Bureau of Chemistry, she was noted for developing a method to detect adulterated teas.

Read More...


Mattie Rae Spivey Fox (150px)
Mattie Rae Spivey Fox: Diet and Nutrition Researcher
Her work in researching the role of trace minerals and toxins in the diet was known around the world.

Read More...


Ruth deforest Lamb - Women
Ruth deForest Lamb: FDA’s First Chief Educational Officer
As FDA’s education officer, she was a strong advocate for consumers and a stronger federal food and drug statute.

Read More...


Mary Engles Pennington - Women
Mary Engle Pennington: The “Cold Chain” of Food Safety
Head of the Bureau of Chemistry’s Food Research Lab in the first years after passage of the 1906 Pure Food and Drugs Act.

Read More...


About this Series

This Women’s History Month feature highlights the careers of women in FDA who have inspired their colleagues, advanced their fields, influenced the regulatory process and protected and promoted public health. Here are some of the women who will be profiled:

Whether they, like research scientists Mary Engle Pennington and Effie Alberta Read, worked for Chief Chemist Harvey Wiley in the Bureau of Chemistry at the turn of the twentieth century, or served as FDA’s first female commissioner at the turn of the twenty first, as did Jane Henney, each of the women from FDA’s past that we are featuring this month shared much in common with today’s FDA workforce.  Each was well-educated, focused, and challenged by their work. Each forthrightly characterized and confronted important scientific, regulatory, or administrative challenges during their years in government  service.

Certainly luck played a role in each of their careers, as it does in that of most people, but passion played an even larger role. Ruth Lamb launched an innovative educational campaign to change the federal food and drug statute itself; Mattie Rae Spivey Fox conducted innovative research in the field of nutrition and food fortification;  Imogene Gollinger, FDA’s first female investigator, initiated change throughout FDA field operations. Sharon Smith Holston, FDA’s first African American deputy commissioner became a mentor to many aspiring FDA administrators.

In the drug field, it would be difficult to overestimate the importance of contributions made to drug and vaccine safety by Ruth Kirschstein who developed tests to protect the public from contaminated polio vaccines, and Frances Kelsey, whose well known refusal to license thalidomide for U.S. sale averted a serious drug crisis. Marion Finkel not only helped write the regulatory requirements for  modern clinical drug trials following enactment of the 1962 Drug Amendments, she also helped implement the Orphan Drug Act, making new medicines available for neglected patient populations. Susan Ellenberg refined statistical models during the AIDS epidemic to help speed up critical new drug approvals.