Merging Chemistry and Nutrition: Pauline Gracia Beery Mack


Pauline Gracia Beery Mack (1891-1974), by Underwood & Underwood, Date unknown, Black and white photo For the month of March, the Smithsonian Institution Archives will be posting new photos of women scientists to the Flickr Commons and highlighting these women in blog posts on THE BIGGER PICTURE, in honor of Women’s History Month. Pauline Beery Mack portrait, Identifier: UAP 385.342, Courtesy of The Woman’s Collection, I find it very difficult to define Pauline Gracia Beery Mack, for there is no single niche into which she falls.  Dr. Mack held many titles: Chemist, Nutritionist, Editor, Teacher, Inventor, Administrator, and Director, to name a few. Born on December 19, 1891 in Norborne, Missouri, Pauline Beery attended Missouri State University and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry (with a minor in Biology) in 1913. She began her career as an educator in the Missouri school system, where she taught science and rose to become the chairperson of science departments in three high schools. Her insatiable appetite for research led to a Masters Degree from Columbia University in 1919. Although she had attained the necessary credentials, Beery found it difficult to procure a desired university research position in Physical Chemistry, perhaps due to the lack of women chemists in academia at the time. Undeterred, she accepted a position as a teacher of Elementary and Applied Chemistry at Penn State College. Cover of The Chemistry Leaflet, Volume IV, December 11, 1930, Number 14, Courtesy of the U.S. Hemp M During her tenure at Penn State (1919-1952) Beery’s career blossomed. Initially, she taught Chemistry to freshman and sophomore Home Economics students. Through this teaching experience, she witnessed a void in the science education among her students, particularly in their understanding of how chemical processes and products were increasingly influencing their lives. Consequently, Beery created Chemistry Leaflet—a pocket-size magazine geared towards the student of elementary Chemistry—in 1927. Chemistry Leaflet was published by Science Service and eventually became the publication Chemistry. Beery served as Editor from 1927 – 1944. Juggling teaching and editorial responsibilities do not appear to have limited Beery, for she made time for a personal life, married Warren Bryan Mack, a Botanist at Penn State, in 1923 and had  two children, Oscar and Anna. She also continued her education and became Dr. Pauline Beery Mack, receiving a Ph. D. from Penn State in 1932. Her dissertation developed a method for measuring calcium retention in the bones of living organisms, research she would continue for the U.S. Army during WWII. Perhaps it was her two children who influenced her interest in human nutrition. Mack’s research for the Penn Mass Studies in Nutrition prompted Penn State to establish the Ellen H. Richards Institute, with Dr. Mack serving as Director, 1940-1952. The Richards Institute expanded Dr. Mack’s studies on the application of chemistry to food, textiles, and common household materials such as detergents and hygiene products. Dr. Pauline Beery Mack and some of her research associates, Denton, Texas, Identifier: UAP 385.192, After the death of her husband in 1952, Dr. Mack accepted a position as Dean and Director of Research in the College of Household Arts and Sciences at Texas State College for Women (now Texas Woman’s University). She continued her studies in nutrition and applications of chemistry to everyday life, and oversaw the development of the College of Household Arts and Sciences into a world class research facility. Dr. Mack retired as Dean in 1962 to assume the directorship of the college’s research foundation, which received a series of grants from NASA to focus on the effects of space travel on bone density.  This research was aided by innovative x-ray technology invented by Dr. Mack in 1950 which measured calcium bone density. It should come as no surprise that Dr. Mack was the recipient of many honors, awards, and fellowships, and was a member of more than twenty professional societies. TWU President John A. Guinn (left) and Dr. Pauline Beery Mack (center) with scientists, Denton, Texa Pauline Gracia Beery Mack’s research at Texas Women’s College continued until 1973, when illness forced her retirement. She died  on October 22, 1974, and left  a legacy of scientific advances. This brief piece only touches on a few of them. For more about the career of this remarkable woman, further suggested readings include:

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