Margaret Gladys Smith (1896-1970)

Margaret Gladys Smith
Margaret Gladys Smith, ca. 1967

A native of Pennsylvania, Margaret Smith received an A.B. degree in chemistry from Mt. Holyoke College in 1918. Smith chose medical school over pursing an advanced degree in chemistry, and entered Johns Hopkins in the fall of 1918. After receiving her M.D. in 1922, Smith joined the faculty at Johns Hopkins, where she remained until she accepted a position as assistant professor of Pathology at Washington University School of Medicine in the fall of 1929.

Smith was only the second woman to hold the rank of assistant professor at Washington University School of Medicine. Her starting salary was $3,250, which was raised to $3,500 her second year. By then the Depression was in full swing, and the next year all faculty salaries were cut 10%, leaving Smith with a salary of only $3,150, less than she originally made when she came to St. Louis. Her salary (and those of the other female faculty members) remained at that level until 1939.

Margaret Gladys Smith in her lab
Margaret Gladys Smith, in her lab

Margaret Smith was promoted to associate professor of Pathology in 1943 and achieved the rank of professor in 1957. She was the first woman to hold an administrative position in the School of Medicine, serving unofficially as acting chairman of the Department of Pathology after the death of Dr. Howard J. McCordock in the fall of 1938, until the appointment of Dr. Robert Allan Moore in July 1939. During July, August and September of 1945, Dr. Smith went to Camp Detrick in Maryland to work for the War Department in the Chemical Warfare Service, where she was involved in somewhat secretive work on CBR (chemical, biological, radiological) warfare.

Margaret Smith was prominent in the field of pediatric pathology. She is best known for her work in isolating the St. Louis encephalitis virus. Smith worked extensively on cytomegaloviruses (CMV) and was one of the first researchers to identify Toxoplasma gondii as a cause of human infection. Though she reportedly found writing agonizing, Smith was the author of over 70 scientific publications. Smith later wrote about the beginning of her interest in pathology. While she was a medical student at Johns Hopkins, there was a young, handsome assistant in the pathology department with whom Smith worked: “I had a foolish crush on him but from that personal interest came my first interest in pathology that fortunately was more enduring that the crush.”

Margaret Gladys Smith and student, in lab
Margaret Gladys Smith, with a student, in her lab

The St. Louis Globe-Democrat chose Smith as one of its ten Women of Achievement for 1958 for her contributions in the area of science. Smith was honored in February 1964 with a Washington University faculty citation at the annual Founder’s Day ceremonies. At the end of that academic year, Dr. Smith retired, though she remained active as professor emeritus and lecturer in the Department of Pathology. In her “retirement,” Smith co-authored the classic textbook Pathology of Infancy and Childhood with Dr. John M. Kissane, a professor of pathology at Washington University. Margaret Smith suffered a fatal heart attack in the spring of 1970. In honor of her achievements and in recognition of her dedication to women in medicine, the Washington University School of Medicine established the Dr. Margaret G. Smith Award to be given to a female student for outstanding achievement in the first two years of medical school.