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Alice Catherine EVANS: The importance of pasteurized milk to prevent brucellosis

« The next time you pour yourself a glass of milk, raise a toast to Alice Catherine Evans» Rita R. Colwell

Early Life and education

Alice Catherine Evans was born on January 29, 1881 in Neat (Pennsylvania, USA). She is the youngest of a family of two children born to William Howell and Anne Evans.

She is educated at local schools, and though she aspires to continue her education, a lack of financial resources prevents her from going to college. In 1901, she works as a primary school teacher, one of the few jobs available to women at this time. In 1905, she has the opportunity to complete her education by taking a free two-year course for remote teachers at the College of Agriculture of Cornell University. During these years, she is mainly interested in science and earns her Bachelor's degree specializing in bacteriology. Alice Evans receives a scholarship to continue learning bacteriology, and obtains her Master’s degree in 1910. Although Alice Evans could get a Ph.D., she turns it down, preferring instead working in the U.S. Department of Agriculture at the Dairy Division of the Agriculture's Bureau of Animal Industry.


At the University of Madison, she starts working on a project to find ways to improve the flavor of cheddar cheese, one of Wisconsin’s major industries. After moving to Washington, D.C., she begins researching bacterial contamination in fresh milk. Based on previous works done by Bernhard Bang (Danish veterinarian) and David Bruce (Scottish pathologist), she demonstrates that the bacteria Bacillus abortus and Micrococcus melitensis which cause spontaneous abortion in cows and brucellosis in goats are similar. Her finding shows that fresh milk can be contaminated by this bacteria and cause brucellosis. Alice Evans presents her work at the annual meeting of the American Society of Bacteriologists in 1917 and publishes it in the Journal of Infectious Diseases in 1918. Alice Evans’ work contributes to convincing people that pasteurization of milk is required to eliminate pathogens and prevent disease.

In World War I, pasteurization of milk is implemented to protect troops from diseases caused by milk. In 1930, the pasteurization of milk starts to be mandatory in the United States of America. The use of pasteurized milk greatly reduces the number of patient infected by brucellosis between 1947 and 1961.

When Alice Evans joins the Public Health Service’s Hygienic Laboratory (now known as The National Institutes of Health) in 1918, she focuses her research on the study and treatment of diseases such as influenza and streptococcal infections. She also contributes to improving the treatment for meningitis.

Sadly, she is infected with brucellosis in 1922 while working in her research. Alice Evans suffers from chronic brucellosis, and she has been fighting this disease for over 20 years. She retires in 1945 and at 94 years old, she passes away in 1975, following a stroke.

Acknowledgement of her accomplishments

In 1927, in recognition of her significant contribution to the field of microbiology, Alice Evans is elected president of the Society of American Bacteriologists. She receives honorary doctoral degrees from the Women’s Medical College, Wilson College and the University of Wisconsin.

Nowadays, the American Society of Microbiology (ASM) awards the annual ASM Alice C. Evans Award to encourage and support women scientists in microbiology research.

Challenges and opportunities throughout her career

Alice Evans faces several obstacles during her career. She encounters financial difficulties. She has to interrupt her education to undertake teaching to earn money. In an effort to further her education, she enrolls in a free two-year course offered to remote teachers at the College of Agriculture of Cornell University. She successfully obtains a competitive scholarship to graduate from the College of Agriculture of the University of Wisconsin. Despite the support of her mentors, she refuses to enrol for a doctorate and is offered a permanent position with the U.S. Department of Agriculture at the Dairy Division of Agriculture's Bureau of Animal Industries. As a woman, Alice Evans faces criticism when working at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She is the first woman scientist in the department. At this time, women scientists are not expected in this division. However, she has the support of her colleagues, and she enjoys working in the Dairy Division. Alice Evan’s most important discovery is not well received. As a woman and an unknown scientist without a Ph.D., her findings draw criticism from her peers and the dairy industry. She is accused of having a conflict of interest with pasteurization companies. However, Alice Evans does not give up, and her discovery is confirmed by multiple scientific groups a few years later. Last but not least, Alice Evans experiences misunderstanding while suffering from chronic brucellosis. Patients with brucellosis are frequently misdiagnosed because they exhibit no symptoms for a prolonged period of time. As a result, people thought she is claiming it as the symptoms develop. In 1928, while being treated for a different illness, Alice Evans receives confirmation of her infection. Alice Evans uses this opportunity to advance knowledge of this illness.

Alice Evans is a pioneer in all facets of her life. Despite difficulties, she persists and refuses to give up. Alice Evans devotes her life to science and should serve as an example to younger generation.

Written by Akila Rekima and edited by Alizée Morat



Rita R. Colwell; Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine; 199; Alice C. Evans: Breaking Barrier

John Parascandola; Public Healt Reports, 1998; Alice Evans, An Early woman scientist at NIH

Alice Evans, A Pioneer for Women in Microbiology | (n.d.).,-A-Pioneer-for-Women-in-Microbiology

ASM Alice C. Evans Award for Advancement of Women. (n.d.).

Evans, Alice C. 1963 | Office of NIH History and Stetten Museum. (n.d.).,AliceC.1963-Epilogue

NIH Eminent Scientist Profiles, Alice Catherine Evans (1881–1975) | Office of NIH


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