Ruth Ella Moore, Bacteriologist, Professor & Seamstress
As an intellectual and well-respected scientist of her era, Dr. Ruth E. Moore is a glimmering example of an excellent and resilient service leader in the educational and scientific community. In 1903, Dr. Moore was born to William E. and Margaret Moore in the sprawling city of Columbus, Ohio. She was preceded by two older brothers: Donovan L. and William E. Moore. Their mother, Margaret Moore, a successful artist and alumnus of Columbus State College of Art and Design, sparked Dr. Moore’s interest in pursuing higher education. Dr. Moore went on to complete her entire education at Ohio State University. She earned her Bachelors of Science in 1926, which was quickly followed by a Master of Science in 1927.
Before embarking on her Ph.D., Dr. Moore worked as a part-time instructor at Tennessee State University, where she taught English and Hygiene to support herself. In 1933, she earned a Ph.D. in bacteriology, making her the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. in natural sciences. This is a significant accomplishment considering the persistent gender and racial barriers that strongly permeated society in the early 1900s. Her dissertation was entitled: Studies on Dissociation of Mycobacterium Tuberculosis: A New Method of Concentration on the Tubercule Bacilli as Applied to Sputum and Urine Examination. The study of this topic was particularly important given that tuberculosis was the second leading cause of death at that time, in the United States. Hence, her Ph.D. work contributed to the grand goal of tuberculosis eradication a few decades later.
Seven years later, Dr. Moore began her distinguished academic career at Howard University. She was hired by another eminent African American scientist, Dr. Hildrus Poindexter. Dr. Poindexter was an expert in tropical disease, epidemiology, and public health and was also the first African American to receive a dual degree of MD/Ph.D. Dr. Moore soon became quite a famous professor — among students and colleagues as she was often called Rem — as she worked to revitalize the preclinical division of Howard University Medical school.
Soon after Dr. Poindexter went into military service in 1945, Dr. Moore was elected as acting chair of the bacteriology department, and she served in the position until 1957. During this time, Dr. Moore earned a promotion to associate professor, and she continued to contribute to the field as she trained several upcoming generations of scientists. Most of her published research included blood grouping in individuals with different backgrounds, immunology of dental caries, and study of Salmonella and E. coli. Dr. Moore’s papers were filled with deep scientific thoughts, wide-ranging topics of investigation, and novel discoveries that advanced our knowledge of microorganisms biology and their role in human pathologies.
In addition to her administrative and research duties, Dr. Moore’s remarkable teaching, mentorship, and leadership skills created an indelible legacy that lives to date. In the 1949 publication of Howard University College of Medicine yearbook entitled “The Bison,” students described Dr. Moore as the most punctual faculty member. They further lauded her ability to design and ask unique questions that keep students engaged and up to date on their learning materials. Dr. Moore’s enthusiasm for passing on scientific knowledge and instilling discipline in her students exemplify her commitment to building the future generation of scientists and physicians who will later exude excellence in their respective fields.
In 1957, Dr. Moore stepped down from her position as department chair and continued teaching as a professor emerita until 1973, when she retired. Before her retirement, she was an active member of the scholarly community. Dr. Moore served as chair of multiple scholarships, loans, and student guidance committees. She was also an essential member of notable scientific organizations such as the American Society of Microbiology (ASM), American Association of Science, American Public Health Association, and the American Society of Immunology. The ASM honored Dr. Moore for her years of leadership, mentoring, and service with a lifetime achievement award. She was also a recipient of the Centennial Award for Distinguished Alumni from Ohio State University, the Magnificent Professor Award from Howard University, and honorary degrees from Gettysburg University (Doctorate of Philosophy) and Oberlin College (Doctorate of Literature). These awards embodied Dr. Moore’s passion for leadership, learning, and community impact, thereby paving the way for next-generation scientists.
Besides her numerous scientific pursuits and service leadership commitments, Dr. Moore was also a seamstress. Her fashion taste and classic, edgy, elegant style was inspired by her mother, Margaret Moore. Margaret had taught her daughter how to sew when she was younger. Even after many years, Dr. Moore continued to appreciate lovely garments and adore meticulously-designed clothing. Interestingly, most of her wardrobe was self-designed, as she carefully handpicked and crafted fabrics and accessories that reflected the in-vogue fashion of her era. One of Dr. Moore’s designs is currently on display in HCTC’s Sports & Fashion exhibition.
As a successful scientist, educator, artist, and leader, Dr. Moore’s life truly exemplifies what it means to be a visionary and resilient woman in STEM. Considering that in the 1940s, universities were reluctant to hire women, much less black women, Dr. Moore’s trailblazing accomplishments become much more significant. To date, she is honored yearly by Howard University through the Ruth E. Moore and Lloyd H. Newman Service Award. Students who receive this award are deemed as being committed to community service and exuding selflessness. On July 19, 1994, Dr. Moore died due to cardiac problems at the National Lutheran Home for the Aged in Rockville. Dr. Moore’s life reminds us that being a scientist is not only about advancing the frontiers of knowledge but also about sowing the seeds of impact in our community.
by Aishat Motolani
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