Irene Karl (1915-2006)

Biochemist Irene E. Karl was born in 1915 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In 1937 she graduated summa cum laude from the University of Wisconsin with a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry, the only woman in a class of 400. She earned a master’s degree the following year, and completed her Ph.D. in Biochemistry in 1940, becoming the first woman to earn a doctorate in science from the University of Wisconsin. Karl worked as a biochemist at Jewish Hospital of St. Louis from 1941 to 1943, leaving to raise her two daughters. Irene Karl resumed her career in 1959 when she became a research associate in Preventive Medicine at the Washington University School of Medicine. She became a research instructor for the Metabolism Division in 1966, a research associate professor of Medicine in 1974, and a research professor of Medicine in 1981.

Irene Karl was known as an authority on muscle metabolism – her research focused on metabolic disorders such as diabetes and sepsis. She published over 150 articles in scientific journals, such as the Journal of the American Medical Association, the Journal of Immunology, and the New England Journal of Medicine.

In 1983 the Irene E. and Michael M. Karl Professorship in Endocrinology and Metabolism was established at Washington University. The Karl’s were the first husband and wife to be so honored. The Michael and Irene Karl Lecture, part of the University’s Masters in Medicine series, was created in honor of the Karls in 1985. In 2002 Karl was the first woman scientist to receive the Jewish Federation of St. Louis Woman of Valor Award. She was also the recipient of the Washington University School of Medicine Second Century Award and the Albert Einstein Award from Technion University in Israel. Irene Karl died in 2006.