Ida H. Hyde

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Born: September 8, 1857
Died: August 22, 1945

Ida H. Hyde was among the first female professors of physiology at an American coeducational university and the first woman to be elected to the American Society of Physiologists. She invented a microelectrode and conducted important research on the nervous, circulatory, and respiratory systems and the impact of stimulants on the body.

Hyde was born in Davenport, Iowa, in 1857 to Meyer Heidenheimer (who anglicized their last name to “Hyde”) and Babette Loewenthal. Her father left the family when she was young, and her mother moved Ida and her four siblings to Chicago, where she ran a store that burned down in the Chicago Fire of 1871. The disaster forced Hyde to leave school to support her family, and she was apprenticed to the millinery trade. She continued to take evening class, however, at the Chicago Athenaeum. By the time she was twenty-four, she had saved enough money to attend one year of college, which was enough to qualify her for the county teachers’ exam.

She taught at Chicago schools throughout her twenties, but her ambition was to earn a college degree in science. In 1889, she left Chicago for Cornell University, where she graduated in 1891. Rather than proceed to medical school as she had planned, she accepted a graduate fellowship at Bryn Mawr. She worked with the scientists T.H. Morgan and Jacques Loeb and spent summers working at the Woods Hole Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts. In 1893, she received an Association of Collegiate Alumnae fellowship (now known as the American Association of University Women, or AAUW) to study in Europe.

In 1894, at age thirty-seven, Hyde overcame the sexism of her professors to earn a doctorate in philosophy and natural sciences at the University of Heidelberg in Germany. She went on to do research at the Zoological Station in Italy and at the Harvard Medical School. While she was in Boston, she founded the Naples Table Association to promote scientific research by women.

In 1899, the University of Kansas in Lawrence hired her to establish its physiology department. While managing this department, she continued to pursue a medical degree, but her request for leave to serve her residency was denied. Eventually, she was forced out of the department; she took leave to serve the federal government in a wartime capacity in 1918 and never returned. She would pursue a variety of public service roles and research projects after leaving Kansas and advocated for the expansion of women’s roles in science and education.

Further Reading

Jan Butin,Ida Henrietta Hyde, in Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.