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Ruth Ella Moore, Ph.D.: A Pioneer For Black Female Scientists

Updated: Sep 20

Who Was Dr. Ruth Ella Moore: Her Legacy, Her History

Dr. Ruth Ella Moore Quick Facts

Dr. Ruth Ella Moore was a true pioneer of her time, being the first in a number of categories. She was born at the turn of the 20th century, a time before women could vote and nearly 50 years before the civil rights movement, but she would live to see both of these in her lifetime.

She was the first African American to get a Ph.D. in bacteriology and the first African American woman to get one in natural sciences. She was also the first black person to join the American Society of Microbiology, even attending a conference in 1932. Unfortunately, at that time, America was so segregated that she was not permitted to stay in the hotels or eat with the other conference attendees.

A fun fact about our girl Ruth is that she was a bit of a fashionista, sewing most of her wardrobe. The Sewer’s Art: Quality, Fashion, and Economy featuring some of her work in 2009.

The Life of Dr. Ruth Ella Moore

She was born in Columbus, Ohio in 1903 and received her Ph.D. from Ohio State in 1933. To earn a little extra cash, Rem, as she would later be known as, took a job teaching hygiene and English at Tennessee State College (Can we bring back hygiene class please! I know a few people that would totally benefit from it!)

She then went on to work at Howard University Medical College, where she was colleagues with another prominent black microbiologist Dr. Hildrus A. Poindexter. Dr. Poindexter was soon enlisted into WWII, and the spot for Head of the Department of Bacteriology was open for Rem to take.

Her first decree, as the head, was to change the department name to Microbiology, a much more inclusive name for our microbial friends. In 1973, she retired as an Associate Professor of emeritus of microbiology, until 1994 where she passed away at the age of 91.

Rem's Research

Her research focused mostly on Tuberculosis, caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis, but included a number of other areas of research as well, including cavities, antibiotics, blood types, and immunology. During this time, Tuberculosis, also known as consumption, was a deadly disease. It was the second leading cause of death in the US.

However, this is not a disease of the past, it's estimated that about 1.8 billion people in the world have latent TB and 1.5 million people died from TB in 2018. This disease is spread through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The bacteria can then easily be transmitted to any one near the infected person.

Coughing that produces blood or sputum is the most common sign of an active TB disease but weight loss, chest pains, weakness, and fever are also often seen.

Today Tuberculosis is easily diagnosed and treatable. However, the treatment is arduous. It includes a 6-month course of 4 antimicrobial drugs which can have several side effects but at least it will save your life. This antibiotic regimen saved 58 million lives between 2000 and 2018.

One scary thing with Mycobacterium tuberculosis is it is multidrug-resistant, many antibiotics do not kill this bacteria. As multidrug-resistant TB continues to rise, the efficacy of antibiotics go down and new treatments are needed, making tuberculosis a major global health crisis.

The Black Microbiologists Association

If you are looking to support Black Microbiologists or are a black microbiologist looking for a community check out The Black Microbiologists Association. They aim to amplify Black scientists in microbiology and create a community among them. They host a black in Micro Week in September. Find out more here!

Other Posts in the Black Lives matter in Microbiology Series

  1. Onesimus: the black slave that helped to stop small pox

  2. William Augustus Hinton: First Black Harvard Professor and Syphilis Researcher

  3. Dr. Ruth Ella Moore: Fashionista, TB Researchers, First Black American to get a PhD in Bacteriology

  4. Dr. Harold Amos: First Microbiologist, Francophile, Teacher, Lover of Science!

  5. Jane Hinton- Co-developer of Mueller-Hinton Agar, One of the first Black Americans to earn a VMD

  6. Jessie Isabelle Price: The Duck Doctor

  7. The Unethical Study That Never Should Have Happened

  8. Hell of a lot of HeLa Cells: The Life and Legacy of the “Immortal” Black Women

Black Lives Matter In Microbiology A series on Famous Black Scientists and Famous Microbiologists


Basic TB Facts | TB | CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/tb/topic/basics/default.htm (2020)

Mitchell, E. American Medical Hero: Dr. Ruth E. Moore. http://blog.eoscu.com/blog/american-medical-hero-dr.-ruth-e.-moore

thibault. Black History Month: Ruth Ella Moore | Clothes Lines. https://u.osu.edu/clotheslines/2019/02/14/black-history-month-ruth-ella-moore/comment-page-1/

Ruth Ella Moore, Ph.D. ASM.org https://www.asm.org/Biographies/Ruth-Ella-Moore,-Ph-D

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