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Effie Alberta Read: Pioneer in the Laboratory

Effie Alberta Read (245px)Effie Alberta Read, Ph. D., M. D., one of very few women in the Bureau of Chemistry when she joined the agency in 1907, was among the best trained analysts when she arrived.  She had spent some time at Mt. Holyoke College and then at Cornell University, from which she earned her Bachelor’s (1903), Master’s (1906), and Ph. D. (1907) degrees.  She had also served as an instructor in histology and embryology while pursuing her graduate education at Cornell.  Her formal education did not end after she joined the Department of Agriculture;  in 1912 she earned her M. D. from George Washington University.

Although Dr. Read did not publish widely, she dedicated herself over the next two decades to developing and executing crucial microchemical procedures to detect adulterated products;  her work represented an unsung scientific cornerstone in the enforcement of  the 1906 Food and Drugs Act, the first comprehensive consumer protection law in the U. S.  Her research into the detection of adulterated teas can be singled out.

At the 1912 International Congress of Applied Chemistry, Dr. Read reported on an advancement in the way the Bureau could identify artificially colored tea imports, which the law prohibited since this was a means of concealing inferior products.  This method, in which dust from crushed and sifted tea leaves is streaked along analytical paper and then examined under the microscope, offered a rapid and reliable means of revealing the presence of any artificial colors.  Moreover, it did not require the skills of a specialized analyst or equipment beyond that found in most analytical laboratories.  Dr. Read’s procedure no doubt was behind, for example, the Bureau's ability to secure a judgment against a thousand packages of a Tennessee tea importer in 1912 that were found to have artificial colors for the purpose of deceiving and misleading customers.

Effie Alberta Read (2)
Dr. Effie Alberta Read, Assistant Chief of the Microanalytical Laboratory of the Bureau of Chemistry, is shown working on a photomicrograph in the 1920s.
Dr. Read spent her entire career in the Bureau of Chemistry’s Microanalytical Laboratory, where she served as the Assistant Chief at the time of her departure, in August 1930.  Three weeks later she died, remembered by her colleagues in the Bureau as “a trained and competent analyst, an able and courageous executive, and a woman of such qualities of mind and character as commanded the respect and admiration of her associates.”

 

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