by Seymour "Sy" Brody
Dr. Gerty Theresa Radnitz Cori was the first American woman to receive the Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology, in 1947, which was shared with her husband, Dr. Carl F. Cori, and Dr. B.A. Houssay of Argentina.
Dr. Cori was born on August 15, 1896, in Prague, which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. She was the oldest of three daughters of Martha and Otto Radnitz, manager of a sugar refinery. The family was Jewish and she was educated by private tutors.
At age sixteen and influenced by her uncle, who was a professor of pediatrics at the University of Prague, Cori decided to study medicine. She graduated with a medical doctor's degree in 1920.
When she was attending medical school, she met Carl Ferdinand Cori, a fellow student. They both shared many common outdoor activities and they both had a curious interest in laboratory research. They were married on August 5, 1920, and accepted positions at the University of Vienna. They decided to pursue careers in medical research, rather than medical practice.
In 1922, they both emigrated to the United States to join the staff of Buffalo's New York Institute of Malignant Diseases. He became an assistant pathologist and she was appointed as an assistant biochemist. Thev both became United States citizens in 1928 and in 1936, they had their only child, Carl Thomas. While at Buffalo, they concentrated on studying the absorption of sugars from the intestines and the effects of insulin epinephrine on the fate of absorbed carbohydrates and or glycerin formation and degradation.
The Cori family accepted positions at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. He was chairman of the Department of Pharmacology and she took a research position at a token salary. Gerty became a full professor in 1947, the same year she received the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology with her husband and Dr. Houssay of Argentina. She was the third woman to receive this prestigious award and became the first Jewish-American woman to receive such an honor. In 1952 President Harry S. Truman named her to the National Science Board of the National Science Foundation.
Dr. Gerty Cori received many honors and awards during her life, and among them were The Midwest Award of the American Chemical Society, in 1946; the Squibb Award in endocrinology, in 1947; the Garvan Medal and the Women's National Press Award in 1948; the Sugar Research Prize of the National Academy of Sciences in 1950 the Borden Foundation Award for outstanding medical research in 1950. She shared with her husband, Carl, the Squibb and the American Chemical Awards. She received honorary degrees from Smith College, Yale University and Rochester University. She was also one of twelve women honored at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y. in 1949, at ceremonies of the first medical degree bestowed on a woman.
In the summer of 1947, she started to feel the symptoms of Myelofibrosis, a rare disease of the bone marrow. For ten years she continued her work, suffering with pain and refusing to stop her laboratory activities. On October 26, 1957, she died of kidney failure.
The famous newscaster, Edward R. Murrow, eulogized her dedication, intellectual integrity, courage and professionalism in her pursuit for answers in biochemistry.
This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes and Heroines of America, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.
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