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Dr. Margaret Pittman Oral History 1988

Download the PDF: Pittman_Margaret_Oral_History_1988 (PDF 69 kB)

Interview with Dr. Pittman in her office at the National Institutes of Health.


Interviewer: Dr. Victoria Harden, Director, Office of NIH History


Background:  The daughter of a physician in Prairie Grove, Arkansas, Dr. Pittman was born in 1901.  She excelled in mathematics and biology at Hendrix College, a Methodist institution in Conway, Arkansas.  After serving for two years as teacher and principal in the academy of a girls' college, she enrolled in the University of Chicago, where she obtained M.S. (1926) and Ph.D. (1929) degrees in bacteriology.  Because of the interest in medicine sparked by working with her father, she also took available courses in immunology and a minor in pathology along with the medical students. In 1928 she accepted a position at the Rockefeller Institute of Medical Research in New York City (now Rockefeller University) to work with Dr. Rufus Cole, Director of the hospital.  There she addressed the question, "Does Haemophilus influenzae cause influenza?"  Her focus changed, however, when she found two strains of the organism that were encapsulated--a "first" demonstration that earned her international respect before she was thirty years old.  Four other capulsular types were identified, but it was type "b" that caused highly fatal meningitis in young children.  Preparation of the first type specific H. influenzae antiserum for therapy led her into life-long work on the control of biologics, largely bacterial antisera and vaccines.  In 1936 she came to NIH and remained on the staff until retirement from the Division of Biologics Standards in 1971.  Since that time, she has been a Guest Worker in the Division.  

Harden:           What impressed you most when you first began work at the NIH?


Harden:           Thank you very much, Dr. Pittman, for talking with me.