Frieda Robscheit-Robbins

Throughout history, the words used to describe women in science have all too often focused on their looks instead of their scientific contributions. Case in point, this week’s WiSE Wednesday honoree, Frieda Robscheit-Robbins. Her much-too-short Wikipedia entry includes a 1981 description of her as “a woman ‘of considerable presence’ who was often seen wearing diamonds and with ‘elegantly coiffured’ hair.” Mastering a graceful hairdo, however, was far from her greatest accomplishment. Born in Germany in 1893, Frieda moved to the US as a child, where she where she partnered with George Whipple to perform groundbreaking pathology research at the University of California and University of Rochester that led to a cure for pernicious anemia. Despite co-authoring close to 2 dozen articles with Whipple on the topic, Frieda was left out of the 1934 Nobel prize for the work. Instead, Whipple shared the award with two doctors who brought the discovery to the bedside. Whipple acknowledged that Frieda deserved a share of the award, even sharing the prize money with her, but it is widely felt that Frieda never got the true recognition she deserved. Apart from the description of her looks, the Wikipedia entry for Robbins largely focused on her partnership with Whipple – mentioning him 6 times, while Whipple’s page only mentions her once in passing. This problem is not unique to Frieda – there are many amazing women scientists whose Wikipedia entries are in desperate need of expansion. We encourage you to find a Wiki edit-a-thon near you or start your own! Unfortunately, I was unable to even locate an image of Frieda. Therefore, let this placeholder serve as a reminder of the women scientists whose histories we are in danger of losing.