Gladys Hobby (1910-1993)


Gladys Hobby, born in New York City in 1910, graduated from Vassar College in 1931 and received a doctorate in bacteriology from Columbia University in 1935.  Between 1934 and 1943, Hobby worked as a member of a research team at the Columbia Medical School, focusing on finding human uses for penicillin.  After reading about results of the penicillin experiments Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming conducted on mice, Hobby and her colleagues Dr. Karl Meyer and Dr. Martin Henry Dawson wrote asking for a sample of the mold.  Hobby, Meyer and Dawson then became experts in the fermentation process required to produce the drug and conducted many experiments with it.  They had the idea that penicillin could be used to help humans.  After testing many patients, they found that it was non-toxic and a powerful germ-killer.  Penicillin helped reduce the severity of infectious disease and made medical procedures like open-heart surgery and organ transplants possible. 

The group received enough news coverage to generate interest by the pharmaceutical industry and with the United States’ entry into World War II, the U.S. government provided money for massive production of the drug.  Penicillin proved to be extremely helpful in saving the lives of wounded soldiers. 

In 1944, Hobby left Columbia University to work for Pfizer Pharmaceuticals in New York.  With Pfizer, she researched streptomycin and other antibiotics.  Fourteen years later in 1959, Hobby became chief of research at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Orange, New Jersey, where she worked studying chronic infectious diseases.  She also worked for many years as an assistant research clinical professor of public health at Cornell Medical College.

After retiring in 1977, Hobby became a freelance science writer and consultant.  She wrote over two hundred articles and founded and edited the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.  Hobby also wrote the book Penicillin: Meeting the Challenge, about the process she, Meyer and Dawson went through to turn penicillin from an experiment into a life-saving drug.  Hobby died in 1993.


Additional Resources:


  • Hobby, Gladys. Penicillin: Meeting the Challenge. Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1985.

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