Agnes Fay Morgan
AMERICAN CHEMIST AND NUTRITIONIST
Born in Peoria, Illinois, on May 4, 1884, Agnes Fay Morgan excelled in high school and studied chemistry at the University of Chicago. After receiving a master of science in chemistry in 1905, she spent the next several years teaching at various colleges across the United States. She returned to the University of Chicago in 1914 to obtain a Ph.D. in chemistry.
In 1915 Morgan was appointed assistant professor of nutrition in the Department of Home Economics at the University of California at Berkeley. Her shift in focus from chemistry to nutrition was a result of the limited professional opportunities available to female chemists at the time. In 1919 Morgan became associate professor of household science, and in 1923 she was promoted to full professor.
As chairperson of the department, Morgan worked vehemently to change the prestige of home economics. She strove to establish a scientific basis for the field, which was generally perceived as the course of study in which young women learned how to become proficient wives and mothers. Under her leadership, the home economics curriculum at Berkeley became largely science-based, with strict requirements. It was not until 1960, however, that her efforts to change the name of the department to better define its work were successful. At that time, six years after her retirement, the department was renamed the Department of Nutritional Sciences.
Throughout the course of her career, Morgan published more than 250 papers on topics with far-reaching effects. Her research would become the foundation for understanding the nutritional effects of many vitamins . It also established that certain vitamin deficiencies can lead to health problems. She was the first to determine that a deficiency in pantothenic acid, a B vitamin, can lead to damage to the adrenal glands and abnormal skin and hair pigmentation. Morgan also showed that high doses of vitamin D can have a toxic effect on the body. Her studies on vitamins A and C led to their discovery in a wide variety of foods. She demonstrated that proteins become denatured (i.e., their physical structure becomes changed) when heated, reducing their nutritional value. Other areas of Morgan's research included the analysis of processed foods, the association between vitamins and hormones, the effects of food preservation on vitamin content, and the basis for low weight gain in children.
Despite the importance of Morgan's research, much of her efforts remained unrecognized until late in her career. In 1949 she was awarded the prestigious Garvan Medal by the American Chemical Society for her groundbreaking research in nutrition. In 1950 she became the first woman to receive the status of faculty research lecturer at the University of California. Other honors imparted on Morgan included the 1954 Borden Award from the American Institute of Nutrition and the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Gold Medal, which recognized her as one of ten outstanding women in San Francisco in 1963. In 1961 the home economics building at Berkeley was renamed Agnes Fay Morgan Hall.
Morgan maintained her research efforts well after her official retirement in 1954. She continued to frequent her office until her death in 1968, two weeks after a heart attack. As a former staff member was quoted as saying in a 1969 memorial, "We can only feel that her going marked the end of an era in the education of women."
Nerad, Maresi (1999). The Academic Kitchen: A Social History of Gender Stratification at the University of California, Berkeley. New York: State University of New York Press.
American Chemical Society. "Agnes Fay Morgan." Journal of Chemical Education. Available from http://jchemed.chem.wisc.edu/JCEWWW/Features/eChemists/Bios/Morgan.html .
Okey, Ruth; Johnson, Barbara Kennedy; and Mackinney, Gordon (1969). "Agnes Fay Morgan, Home Economics: Berkeley." Available from http://dynaweb.oac.cdlib.org:8088/dynaweb/uchist/public/inmemoriam/inmemoriam1969/@Generic__BookTextView/1214 .