Ladies in the Laboratory?

Ladies in the Laboratory? American and British Women in Science, 1800-1900: A Survey of their Contributions to Research. Mary R. S. Creese. Lanham, Md: Scarecrow Press, 1998; page 133. (In chapter 5: “Some General Biologists.”)

MARTHA BUNTING (1861-1944) was active in scientific work for over three decades, alternating periods of research with high school and college teaching. The daughter of Susan Lloyd (Andrews) and Samuel Bunting, she was born in Philadelphia, on 2 December 1861. After receiving her early education at the Friends’ School in Darby, Pennsylvania, she went to Swarthmore College (B.L., 1881). She continued her studies at the University of Pennsylvania under the guidance of pathologist Leo Loeb[1] for three years from 1888 until 1891, and then for another two years, at Bryn Mawr College, where she worked with Thomas Hunt Morgan on the development of the sex cells in Hydractinia and Podocoryne. Her substantial paper on this research, carried out in part during three summers at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory, appeared in the Journal of Morphology in 1894. She received her Ph.D. the following year.

From 1893 until 1898 she taught biology, first at the Woman’s College of Baltimore (later Goucher College) and then at the Girls’ High School in Philadelphia. Thereafter she had a further year of study at Columbia University and a summer of research at the Marine Laboratory at Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island. Two papers reporting her investigations of the development of cork tissue appeared in the late 1890s. Carried out at the Woman’s College of Baltimore and the Botanical Garden of the University of Pennsylvania, the work was suggested by John Macfarland, the garden’s director. She taught biology at Wadleigh High School in New York City from 1900 until 1910, when, at the age of forty-eight, she returned to research, taking a Carnegie assistantship in physiology with Edward Tyson Reichert in the department of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Except for a two-year interruption during the First World War when she carried out war relief work, she continued as a research assistant until about 1920 and remained associated with the university for another decade. Throughout this period she does not appear to have published further[2] under her own name in any of the major scientific journals. She died in Philadelphia, 13 October 1944, in her eighty-third year.

SOURCES: Who Was Who in America, vol. 4, p. 135; Alumni records, Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College; WWWA, p. 145; AMS, 1910, 1921.

  1. [1]  This wasn’t Leo Loeb (born 1869) — he was still a university student in Switzerland during this period (immigrated to the U.S. in 1897) — it was his older brother, Jacques Loeb. Both brothers became famous in America, but Martha’s adviser and colleague was Jacques, not Leo. (Quoting Martha Bunting: “Significance of the Otoliths for the Geotropic Functions of the Crayfish; translated into German by Dr. Jacques Loeb, under whose instruction Martha Bunting conducted the research, and published in Archiv für die Gesamte Physiologie, Bd. 54, Mar 16, 1893.”) See Wikipedia for info on the Loeb brothers.
  2. [2]  “…she does not appear to have published further…” — On the contrary, Martha Bunting continued to publish during this period. Three of her most important articles appeared after 1920: A Preliminary Note on Tetramitus, a Stage in the Life Cycle of a Coprozoic Amoeba (1922); Studies in the Life-Cycle of Tetramitus rostratus Perty (1926); Binary Fission in the Amoeboid and Flagellate Phases of Tetramitus rostratus (Protozoa) (1929). Eventually Martha was forbidden by her doctors to continue her work in the laboratory. Starting in 1926, until her death in 1944, Martha focused on genealogical and historical research.