Women in Immunology

Women have always figured prominently in immunology and in The American Association of Immunologists (AAI). In fact, two of the 54 charter members of AAI were women—in an era when women in science and medicine were viewed by many in the scientific community as inferior to their male counterparts. But from the time of its founding, AAI had no gender restrictions, and women and men alike were elected as full members.

There were many trailblazing women in immunology, but because of gaps in the historical record, their accomplishments have been lost to history. The AAI History Office is dedicated to preserving the historical accounts we do have and continuing to highlight women who influence the field and will impact immunology and AAI in the future.

We hope you enjoy learning more about the amazing women in our field.


Articles from the AAI Newsletter

Hidden Figures of AAIHidden Figures of AAI: Five Women Pioneers in Immunology

Excerpt: We profile five women immunologists who in the early decades of the 20th century persevered in the fields of bacteriology, serology, public health, pediatric pathology, and drug development. They moved the science of immunology forward while simultaneously opening the field to future female immunologists. These pioneers are Martha Wollstein (AAI 1918), Olga R. Povitzky (AAI 1920), Winifred M. Ashby (AAI 1923), Eleanor A. Bliss (AAI 1931), and Jessie Marmorston (AAI 1932).

Published: April 2020

Anna W WilliamsAnna Wessels Williams: Infectious Disease Pioneer and Public Health Advocate

Excerpt: Among early women members, Anna Wessels Williams, (AAI 1918) is one of a number who stand out for their enduring contribution to immunology and to the foundation of AAI. Her legacy in the burgeoning field of immunology includes breakthroughs in the treatment of diphtheria and the diagnosis of rabies. And texts that she co-authored helped to define how generations of researchers and clinicians would conduct research, as well as assist the general public in understanding infectious diseases.

Published: March/April 2012

Ellen Browning ScrippsEllen Browning Scripps and the Birth of Scripps Research

Excerpt: Biological science in San Diego owes a great debt to one woman. Ellen Browning Scripps was the embodiment of the American Dream and the new dynamism of women in the early 20th century. An immigrant, journalist, entrepreneur, and philanthropist, she became one of the most important leaders in the creation and development of San Diego scientific and educational institutions.

Published: October 2019

Elise L'EsperanceElise Strang L’Esperance: Pioneer in Cancer Prevention

Excerpt: In 1916, Elise L’Esperance, M.D. (AAI 1920),  became the first woman to be a lead author on an article published in The Journal of Immunology.  This was not the last “first” to be credited to L’Esperance, for she was instrumental in breaking a number of barriers for women in medicine and changing the face of cancer prevention in the United States. For her ground-breaking work in cancer prevention, L’Esperance shared the 1951 Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award—becoming one of the first women to receive the award.

Published: January/February 2012

Mary Hewitt LovelessMary Hewitt Loveless: Creating a Buzz in Immunology

Excerpt: Of the many images one might conjure of immunologists in the 1950s, one of the least likely might be that of a middle-aged woman, butterfly net in hand, chasing wasps in her garden. Yet, this is precisely how one eminent immunologist, Mary Hewitt Loveless (AAI ’41), may have appeared on a typical summer day during that decade. An allergist and clinical immunologist, Loveless pioneered the use of venom, which she meticulously obtained from wasps and bees in her own backyard, to treat patients who were susceptible to anaphylaxis when stung by these insects of the order Hymenoptera.

Published: Winter 2013

Rebecca LancefieldRebecca Lancefield: PI in the Scotland Yard of Streptococcal Mysteries

Excerpt: Among early members of the American Association of Immunologists (AAI), few left a more enduring legacy than that of Rebecca Craighill Lancefield. A world-renowned authority on streptococcal bacteria, Lancefield developed the classification system of streptococcus bearing her name and still in use today. Recognized broadly for her outstanding scientific achievements, Lancefield, in 1961, was elected by her peers to serve as president of AAI, becoming the first woman elected to this office.

Published: March/April 2013

AAI CSOW HistoryCSOW: Focusing on the Careers of Women in Immunology

Excerpt: While women have been members of AAI since its founding (Amelia Gates and Myrtle Smith were charter members in 1913), they represented less than 10 percent of membership until 1958. There wasn’t an official group that focused on supporting women immunologists, and addressing career issues unique to them, in the association’s first 57 years. In 1970, the AAI Council approved the formation of a five-member Committee on Women’s Status. The first committee was chaired by Helene C. Rauch (AAI ’67), and included  Justine S. Garvey (AAI ’56) and G. Jeanette Thorbecke (AAI ’61, president 1989–90).

Published: March 2017


From the AAI Oral History Project

The AAI Oral History Project, begun in 2013, is a major initiative to provide contemporary investigators and the public a rare view into the lives and times of influential immunologists. Interviewees were asked about their family backgrounds, early interest in science, reasons for studying immunology, career and research highlights, the challenges in balancing professional and private lives, hobbies outside of the laboratory, major changes in immunology over the course of their careers, and the future of immunology and science in the United States. Here we highlight the distinguished women AAI members.


Ellen S. Vitetta
President, 1993–1994
AAI '74

Katherine L. Knight
President, 1996–1997
AAI '68


Philippa Marrack
President, 2000–2001
AAI '74


Laurie H. Glimcher
President, 2003–2004
AAI '83

Susan L. Swain
President, 2004–2005
AAI '77

Olivera J. Finn
President, 2007–2008
AAI '83

Betty A. Diamond
President, 2009–2010
AAI '80

Leslie J. Berg
President, 2011–2012
AAI '94

Gail A. Bishop
President, 2012–2013
AAI '84



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