The Macksey Journal

Article Title

The Women of the Virus Research Laboratory: The Hidden History of the Salk Vaccine through the Women who worked with Dr. Jonas Salk in Pittsburgh, PA from 1947 to 1955


Dr. Jonas Salk is known as an American hero who saved the nation when he developed the polio vaccine. His achievement was announced to the world on April 12, 1955. Dr. Salk was rightfully and universally praised, receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977. But Dr. Salk did not work alone. Few of his coworkers were credited by Salk, at the time or in the wake of the announcement, and as a result the media and the public knew next to nothing about the eight-year-long collaborative efforts in Salk’s Virus Research Laboratory (VRL). His coworkers and assistants were unknown then and have remained unknown for the last 65 years. This paper, “The Women of the Virus Research Laboratory,” brings to lights the story of the unsung women who worked in the VRL and who were among the first major group of female scientists in American medicine. This prosoprographical study utilizes a range of unpublished and previously unknown material as a key source base to reconstruct the composition of the staff that worked in the VRL between 1947 and 1955. It identifies the women on the staff and their roles in the VRL and in the discovery of the so-called Salk Vaccine. The paper retrieves these women from obscurity and shines an appropriate light on their work, arguing that the place of women in science in this country is, despite some popular perceptions, long, substantial, and worthy of discrete study.