The embryologist Jane M. Oppenheimer was born in Philadelphia on September 19, 1911, and received her bachelors' degree in Zoology from Bryn Mawr College in 1932. She entered graduate school at Yale under the direction of John Spangler Nicholas, receiving her PhD in 1935 for a dissertation on the embryology of the killifish Fundulus heteroclitus in which she developed a novel methodology for dechorionating the embryo, making precise experimental manipulations of teleost embryos possible.
Oppenheimer returned to Bryn Mawr in 1938 as an instructor in biology, and remained there until her retirement in 1980, eventually rising to become William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Biology and History of Science. Perhaps her most important work was done in the four years immediately prior to her arrival at Bryn Mawr, when she performed a series of grafting experiments that demonstrated homology between the dorsal lips of teleost and amphibian embryos. She also developed accurate fate maps of the teleost embryo blastoderm and charted cell movement in gastrulation.
Early in her career, Oppenheimer developed an interest in the history of science and medicine, and she became increasingly well known for her contributions in the history of embryology and evolutionary biology. Her major works include Autobiography of Karl Ernst von Baer (Canton, Mass., 1986), Foundations of Experimental Embryology (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1964), and Essays in the History of Embryology and Biology (Cambridge, Mass., 1967).
Oppenheimer was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters and, in 1980, to the APS, serving as Secretary from 1987 to 1992. She was recipient of the Otto H. Hafner Award of the American Association of the History of Medicine, the Karl Ernst von Baer Medal from the Estonian Academy of Sciences, the Wilbur Lucius Cross Medal from the Yale Graduate Alumni Association, and the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Award for distinguished teaching at Bryn Mawr. She died at age 84 on March 19, 1996.
From the guide to the Jane M. Oppenheimer Papers, 1936-1962, (American Philosophical Society)