Sunday, December 13, 2009

Mary L. Caldwell

Born on December 18, 1890, Mary Letitia Caldwell was the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries working in Colombia. She attended high school in the United States and then attended the Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio, graduating in 1913. She taught there for five years following her graduation. She then went to Columbia University, where she studied under Henry S. Sherman and obtaining a M.A. and a Ph.D. in organic chemistry. She stayed at Columbia first as an instructor and then a full professor in 1948. She was the only woman to be a senior chemistry faculty member at the time.

Mary Caldwell's research centered on enzymes that use starch as a substrate, particularly amylases. She was the first person to purify porcine pancreatic amylase, an enzyme that is used both in industry and research. She also established that amylase is a protein. Amylase is an enzyme that breaks down starches into individual carbohydrate units.

Although Mary Caldwell suffered from a progressive muscular disorder, she never changed her office on the 9th floor of Chandler Hall. She retired in 1959 and was awarded the Garvan Medal by the American Chemical Society in 1960.


Mary Letitia Caldwell, Journal of Chemical Education online

Ogilvie, M.; The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science: Pioneering Lives From Ancient Times to the Mid-20th Century; p.220-1; Routledge; 2000

Barbosa, Patty; "Mary Letitia Caldwell"; in The Data Bank of Scientists at


  1. Mary L. Caldwell born in Bogota Colombia (the country) received her PhD from Columbia University (note, the country and university are spelled differently)