Bernice Eddy, Ph.D. (1903-1989)

Bernice Eddy was born in Glendale, West Virginia, but grew up in Marietta, Ohio, after her father’s death. She took pre-medical courses at Marietta College, intending to be a physician like her father and two brothers.

During her senior year of college, she was awarded a fellowship in bacteriology at the University of Cincinnati, where she also obtained her masters and Ph.D. She later researched leprosy at a Public Health Service hospital in Louisiana, where she met her future husband Dr. Jerald G. Wooley. Eddy and Wooley both joined the National Institutes of Health (NIH), where Eddy Joined the Laboratory of Biologics Control (which became the Division of Biologics Standards [DBS] in 1955) in 1937.

Professional photo of Bernice Eddy in a suit with a pearl necklace

Dr. Bernice Eddy

FDA History Office
In August 1954, Dr. Bernice Eddy had been testing a batch of polio vaccines from Cutter Laboratories when she noticed that the vaccine had given polio to a test monkey. She found that three of the six samples had paralyzed test monkeys. Eddy knew something was wrong and brought it to the attention of her supervisor, Dr. William Workman. Because of the previous polio epidemics and the race to create a vaccine, Eddy and her team had been working around the clock testing the Salk vaccine. Amidst the scientific and bureaucratic chaos, Workman never told the licensing committee, and the Cutter vaccine was approved and shipped out. In the spring of 1955, the year following a field trial that showed the Salk inactivated (killed) polio vaccine to be safe and effective, DBS licensed several firms to produce the vaccine. Cutter Laboratories accidentally released vaccine that retained live polio virus, resulting in 260 paralytic cases of the disease, a disaster that caused panic among parents and scientists alike. Amidst the controversy, Eddy was relieved of her polio control testing duties in 1955 but continued to work in biologics. While she had been at the center of the polio controversy, she had the courage to stand by her convictions and research against significant opposition. Workman was also forced out of his job as head of the Laboratory of Biologics Control (predecessor to DBS), but stayed on as Chief of the Laboratory of Control Activities until he retired in 1963. Dr. Roderick Murray became head of DBS in 1955. The NIH Director at the time, William H. Sebrell Jr., also resigned in 1955 amidst the Cutter controversy. 

Eddy continued her ground-breaking research. In 1956, she worked with Dr. Sarah Stewart of the National Cancer Institute, and they identified the SE (Stewart-Eddy) polyoma virus, which can cause tumors. Eddy also identified the simian virus 40. Her work led to the newborn hamster becoming the preferred animal for testing potentially cancer-causing viruses of mammalian origin. Twice Stewart and Eddy were nominated for the Nobel Prize for their work on the S-E polyoma virus, but unfortunately, they never won.

In February 1961, Murray informed Eddy that her research interests conflicted with her control work on respiratory viruses. If Eddy was engaged in basic research with only minor relevance to her control activities, she was allowed to continue her work, but if her research began to identify factors which might require changes in the regulatory control of vaccines, her work was to stop. In July 1961, Eddy began her new role in research only as the chief of the Section on Experimental Virology within the Laboratory of Virology and Rickettsiology in the DBS. This was her new research-only role that kept her out of control activities for vaccines. Much of the treatment of Eddy was revealed during Congressional hearings as part of the Consumer Safety Act of 1972.

Eddy was also an expert on pneumococcus and streptococcus, influenza and polio-myelitis vaccines, and on tumor-producing viruses.

Dr. Eddy later won a Superior Service Medal from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in 1967 for her work on control testing of vaccines for polio-myelitis and respiratory diseases, and for her discovery and characterization of tumorigenic viruses.

Dr. Eddy worked in Building 29, Room 207, then moved to Building 29A once it opened in 1967, where she worked in Room 3B20.


a scan of a photo in the NIH Record of Bernice Eddy with her hair up seated in a chair wearing a lab coat in the lab

The NIH Record 1968

a black and white group photo of the biologics staff in the 1930s in front of their Washington DC NIH office building

Photo of the staff of the Laboratory of Biologics Controls in 1938 (Dr. Eddy is on the right, front row) National Library of Medicine

Photo here

Group photo circa 1960 for polio meetings on campus. Dr. Eddy is third from right. Image from Always There