Alice Ball
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Alice Augusta Ball (1892 - 1916)

Alice Augusta Ball
Born in Seattle, King, Washington, USAmap
Ancestors ancestors
[spouse(s) unknown]
[children unknown]
Died in Seattle, King, Washington, USAmap
Profile last modified | Created 21 Aug 2017
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Notables Project
Alice Ball is Notable.
African-American Project
Alice Ball is part of African-American history.

Alice Augusta Ball was an African American chemist who made a substantial contribution to medicine by developing the first effective treatment for leprosy prior to the development of antibiotics in the 1940s. She was also the first woman and first African American to obtain a master's degree from the University of Hawaii.

Birth and Early Life

Alice Augusta Ball was born 24 July 1892 in Seattle, Washington to James Presley Ball, Jr. and Laura Louise Howard. She was the third of their four children, and the first daughter.

Her grandfather, James Presley Ball, Sr., was a well-known daguerreotype photographer, her father was a lawyer and photographer, and her mother and aunt were also photographers. In 1903, she moved with her family to Hawaii for her grandfather's health. On his death, only a year later, the family returned to Seattle, where she attended high school. Wikipedia states that she graduated from Seattle High School in 1910, but I have found her in yearbooks for Broadway High School in Seattle in 1909, which she had started attending in 1906, and where she was a member of the Science Club and the Dramatic Club; the yearbook page titled "Science Club Calendar" has a listing for "Radium and Radio Active Subtances—Alice Ball," and the page with her photo, in a lovely art nouveau style frame, provides the following:

Entered February, 1906. (4) Science Club; Dramatic Club.
"I work and work, and still it seems that I have nothing done."

Education and Research

She earned bachelor's degrees in pharmaceutical chemistry and pharmacy from the University of Washington, the first in 1912, and the second in 1914. Working with her pharmacy instructor, William M. Denn, she co-authored an article in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, "Benzoylations in Ether Solution," published in 1914. While working on her master's thesis, "The Chemical Constituents of Piper Methysticum; or The Chemical Constituents of the Active Principle of the Ava Root," she was approached by Dr. Harry T. Hollmann, Assistant Surgeon at Kalihi Hospital. Kalihi Hospital was a treatment center for individuals with Hansen's disease, known more commonly as leprosy. Some early work with chaulmoogra oil obtained from chaulmoogra trees, had shown limited success in treating the condition when taken orally, but the side effects were unpleasant and the treatment insufficiently effective. She was able to quickly isolate the the active agents and create an injectable form of the substance which avoided the previous side effects and was more effective.

On 1 June 1915, she earned a master's degree from the University of Hawaii, becoming the first woman to so, the first African American to do so, and the first woman to teach chemistry at the University of Hawaii.


Alice Ball became ill during the process of completing her master's thesis and working on the treatment for leprosy, possibly a consequence of exhaustion, possibly as a result of inhaling chlorine gas while doing a demonstration for a class in Honolulu. She returned to Seattle for treatment and died about three months later on 31 Dec 1916. Her original death certificate was altered at some point to give her cause of death as tuberculosis.


Alice Ball's work with chaulmoogra oil, originally termed the Ball Method, was continued by Arthur L. Dean, president of the University of Hawaii, who was also a chemist. In 1918, following injections developed from the oil, Kalihi Hospital released 78 leprosy patients. When, after Alice's death, Dean published the findings, he gave no credit to her and even named the procedure for obtaining the medication to treat leprosy the Dean Method. We might never have known of her contributions had Dr. Hollmann not spoken out, but even so it took many years before her accomplishments were fully acknowledged by the University of Hawaii. On Feb. 29, 2000 a plaque was placed on the single chaulmoogra tree on campus in her honor, in 2007 she was awarded a Medal of Distinction by the university's Board of Regents, and February 29th was designated “Alice Ball Day” by Mazie Hirono, then Hawaii’s Lieutenant Governor, now a Senator. Additionally, on Feb 29, 2008, the University of Washington published A tribute to Alice Bell: a scientist whose work with leprosy was overshadowed by a white successor. Hawaiʻi Magazine recognized her contributions as one of Hawaii's most influential women in 2016.

Research Notes

  • "Ball, Alice Augusta." ScholarSpace, University of Hawaii, [1], (accessed August 21, 2017).
  • "Episode 7: Alice Ball." Babes of Science, Poncie Rutsch, [2], (accessed August 24, 2017).
  • "A tribute to Alice Bell: a scientist whose work with leprosy was overshadowed by a white successor." The Daily. University of Washington, [3], (accessed August 24, 2017).

[These notes need correct formatting, and to be connected to specific data in the bio. Lloyd-391 03:50, 21 August 2017 (EDT)]


Note: The records in the "Washington, Birth Records, 1870-1935," database on are sourced from a compilation of multiple sources. The two digital images found for Alice A Ball appear to be from the same original hardcopy records. There is, however, a difference in the two, as the records citing "Seattle King County, Health Department Birth Records: 1891-1907" are much more difficult to read than those citing "King County, Birth Register: 1877-1924."
  • Washington. King County. 1900 U.S. census, population schedule. Digital images. : 2004.
  • Washington. King County. 1910 U.S. census, population schedule. Digital images. : 2006.
  • Find A Grave ( : accessed 24 August 2017), memorial page 107564660, Alice Augusta Ball (24 Jul 1892–31 Dec 1916), created by "SLGMSD"; citing The Bellingham Herald, Bellingham, Washington, 1 January 1917 and The Seattle Daily Times, Seattle, 1 January 1917. No gravestone exists.

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Alice Augusta Ball
Alice Augusta Ball

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Feb. 29 is "Alice Ball Day" which means they honor her once every 4 years!
posted by Mark Burch

Rejected matches › Alice Bell (1892-1893)