Friday, November 20, 2009

Who Else Would Tell Her Story? Adelia McCrea - A Renown Mycologist

Adelia McCrea was a pioneer. Her humble beginnings were rooted in rural Roscommon County, Michigan, where she was born into a family of lumberjacks in 1880. She was a teacher in Sterling, Michigan, as a young girl. By the end of her career she had earned a PhD (as well as an undergraduate degree) from the University of Michigan in 1930 while working at Parke Davis. Her accomplishments may not seem unusual in 2009, but considering the 19th Amendment (right to vote) was ratified a mere 10 years before Adelia (a woman born in the 19th century) earned her PhD, I'm still amazed.

15 year old Adelia McCrea at her 1895 graduation

This article captured the essence of Adelia:

THE NEWS (DETROIT) Monday, November 29, 1943 [Excerpts]:
'Know More Than Men and Get Along,' Says Scientist "Dr. Adelia McCrea Finds Fungi Are Interesting" By Ethel Bogardus

To realize that fungi are fun and science stimulating--talk to Dr. Adelia McCrea, pioneer in her field. Retired, but certainly not vegetating, is the charming, alert woman whose sparkling brown eyes will never cease their quest for more fascinating lore in her chosen field. Dr. McCrea, who spent 21 years as the only woman research staff member for Parke Davis & Co., manufacturing chemists, is visiting her sister, Miss Jessie McCrea, of the Public Welfare Department. You may run in to her one day poking around mossy hillsides, or scanning the ocean beach for odd bits of sea life. You may not recognize the slender figure as a scientist famous, in her own field... .

Travel and photography, the two hobbies this feminine mycologist hoped to enjoy, are forbidden her by war conditions--but she's having fun just the same.

Dr. McCrea was teaching science at the close of World War I, and became much interested in the fungus diseases of many men returning from Europe. Parke Davis was looking for such a research expert--so Dr. McCrea went to work. Modestly, she won't tell which of the many remedies put out by that drug firm are the result of her careful study*.
*See a patent here

Adelia, who never married, enjoyed entertaining young and old alike. She and her sisters invited extended family members, including me, to visit the McCrea cottage at Higgins Lake. Though at the time I was puzzled as to why mushrooms were frequently on the menu. After discovering that Adelia was a mycologist it made perfect sense. She loved her fungi, at work and at home.

I was in awe of Adelia; she was a formidable presence and left an indelible impression upon me as a child. She sparked my (short-lived) interest in science. The choice of a chemistry set for my birthday was inspired by Miss Adelia McCrea. In my mind she also helped prolong the life of my beloved grandfather. When Grandpa winced and then took some of his heart medicine, my grandmother often commented that "'Delia invented the medicine that your Grandfather is taking."

She died on January 8, 1962, in Florida. Her obituary as found in the St. Petersburg Times: ADELIA MCCREA, SCIENTIST, DIES AT 81.

Adelia was the daughter of James B. & Isabelle (Cameron) McCrea. Her siblings included two brothers, James & Duncan, and four sisters, Sarah, Mary, Ellen and Jessie. My grandmother, Beatrice (Cameron) Powers was her cousin.


Greta Koehl said...

Wonderful article; how lucky you were to know her personally.

Joan said...

I love stories about strong independent women of Adelia's day, women that made their own way in the world. They made it so much easier for those of us who followed.

Thank you for the story of Adelia.

Tracy said...

Adelia was obviously a woman much ahead of her time. Thank you for sharing the story.