Slye, Maud, 1879-1954

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1879
Death 1954-09-17

Biographical notes:

Maud Slye was born in Minneapolis in 1869. Many published sources give her birth date as February 8, 1879, but U.S. Census records indicate that she was born in 1869; it may be that claimed the later birth date to avoid mandatory retirement. In 1895, Slye entered the University of Chicago as an undergraduate student and worked as secretary for President William Rainey Harper to support herself. Following a breakdown brought on by the strain of full-time work and study, Slye relocated to the East Coast and received her A.B. degree from Brown University in 1899. She taught at Rhode Island State Normal School until 1905, and in 1908 returned to the University of Chicago as a graduate assistant to Professor Charles Otis Whitman.

Slye began her pioneering research on cancer heredity in mice soon after her arrival in Chicago, and in 1911 joined the University’s newly opened Sprague Memorial Institute. In 1919 she was appointed director of the Cancer Laboratory at the University of Chicago, and in 1926 was promoted to associate professor of pathology, a position she held until her retirement in 1944. Slye performed her research with only minimal financial support from the University, often paying for mouse food and other supplies out of her personal stipend. Her first research assistant, Harriet Holmes, worked without pay.

Slye faced criticism from other pathologists and researchers for her contention that heredity played a key role in susceptibility to cancer; her research challenged prevailing notions of cancer as being at least partly caused by contagions. Although her hypotheses about heredity were later shown to be a simplification of the complex role genetics play in cancer susceptibility, her studies were crucial in establishing heredity as a key area for cancer research.

Slye sometimes had to battle gender-based stereotypes and criticism, including questions from the press about whether she was “afraid” of her mice and a cruel rumor that circulated for a time in the cancer research field, charging that she had refused to share her research results with scientists from the New York Institute for Cancer Research and had cried when questioned about her findings. Nevertheless, Slye was recognized for her work, receiving a gold medal from the American Medical Society in 1914 and another from the American Radiological Association in 1922. She was also awarded the Ricketts Prize from the University of Chicago in 1915 and an honorary doctorate from Brown University in 1937.

In addition to her scientific work, Slye published two volumes of poetry, Songs and Solaces (1934) and I in the Wind (1936). She died in Chicago in 1954.

From the guide to the Slye, Maud. Papers, 1910s-1930s, (Special Collections Research Center University of Chicago Library 1100 East 57th Street Chicago, Illinois 60637 U.S.A.)

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  • Slye, Maud, 1879-1954

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