Seibert, Florence B. | Pebbles on the Hill of a Scientist

  • First and only edition of this autobiography of the biochemist who was the first to produce purified tuberculin for use in studying and treating tuberculosis. Presentation copy inscribed by the author to a prominent nursing administrator on the front free endpaper, “To Anna Wolf and Eleanor Stewart, esteemed friends, Florence B. Seibert”. And with a photo of the author tipped-in with tape on the front pastedown, inscribed on the verso in pencil “Dr. Florence B. Seibert ‘73, friend who researched on all forms of cancer”.

    Biochemist Florence Seibert (1897-1991) was a productive and highly regarded scientist who worked in a number of areas and received numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship.

    As a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Chicago during the early 1920s she made her first breakthrough, “a method of eliminating bacterial contamination that was known to occur during the creation of solutions meant for vaccinations and injections. Patients could experience sudden fevers or illness during or after an injection or intravenous treatment. Such afflictions, Seibert discovered, were most often caused by bacterial contamination of the distilled water used to make the solutions. She was able to eliminate this contamination using a special apparatus and procedure she created for this purpose. This would be a great boon later not only for administering drugs but also for making blood transfusions safer during surgery” (Lemelson-MIT biography).

    But Seibert’s most significant work was on tuberculosis, particularly her improvements to Robert Koch’s skin test for the infection. “Koch’s method was notoriously inaccurate, for the evaporated solution used in the test contained numerous impurities. Even people with a serious case of tuberculosis sometimes failed to get a positive test. Seibert worked for ten years on methods of isolating pure tuberculin by filtration, by using a guncotton membrane of a specific thickness. The result was a creamy white powder which was the purified protein from the tuberculosis bacillus, known as PPD. Never patenting the process (which would have made her rich), she furnished the National Tuberculosis Association with a large quantity of pure tuberculin” (Ogilvie, Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science, p. 1173).

    It’s likely that one of the recipients of this copy was the prominent nursing instructor and educational administrator Anna Dryden Wolf (1890-1985), who served as director of the Johns Hopkins Hospital School of Nursing. She and Seibert probably met during the late 1920s when Wolf was on the faculty of the University of Chicago. In addition to laying the groundwork for the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, “[Wolf] played a leadership role in numerous nursing professional organizations, such as the American Red Cross, Florence Nightingale International Foundation, National League of Nursing Education, and National Nursing Council. She also served as an advisor to government agencies such as the US Public Health Service, Veterans Affairs, and War Manpower Commission” (Johns Hopkins Medical Archives, Wolf papers finding aid).
  • St. Petersburg, FL: for the author by St. Petersburg Printing Company, 1968.

    Octavo. Original turquoise cloth, titles to spine and upper board gilt. With the dust jacket. 12 pages of integral illustrations from photographs. Spine rolled, cloth very lightly rubbed at the tips, some spots on the top edge not affecting the contents. An excellent copy in the jacket that is a little rubbed, toned, and marked, with some nicks and short splits.