SALOME WAELSCH is truly the most well-deserving recipient of this last Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal of the twentieth century awarded by the Genetics Society of America, for her career has spanned nearly the entire century. Salome was born in Danzig, Germany, in 1907 and studied zoology as an undergraduate. She became fascinated by embryology and, in 1928, she was accepted for graduate studies in the Freiburg laboratory of the great developmental biologist (and later Nobel Laureate) Hans Spemann. Although it may be hard for biologists at the end of the twentieth century to understand, Spemann and many of his German embryology colleagues refused to consider the possibility that genes might have something to do with the process of embryonic development. Thus, Salome was forced to work on the problem of embryonic induction without recourse to genetic analysis.
Salome received her Ph.D. in 1932 from the University of Freiburg and moved immediately to her first academic appointment at the University of Berlin. Unfortunately, the timing of her move was not ideal, to say the least. Just a year later, Adolf Hitler consolidated his power over Germany. Among Hitler's many senseless acts was the firing of all Jewish academics who held university positions. Suddenly unemployed, Salome saw “the writing on the wall” and fled to New York City with her first husband Rudolf Schoenheimer (who was also Jewish and an outstanding biochemist). After a period of three years without work during the Depression, Salome was hired in 1936 as a Research Associate at Columbia University with the great American geneticist L. C. Dunn.
In Dunn's “mouse house” at Columbia University, Salome's scientific career flourished. She combined her embryological expertise with new-found genetic knowledge from her Columbia colleagues to demonstrate the very real role that single gene mutations in the mouse t complex had on the process of mammalian development and gametogenesis, repudiating her original advisor's antigene bias. Indeed, Salome was among the first to show the power of genetic analysis in the study of development.
While Salome experienced anti-Semitism firsthand in Nazi Germany, she experienced sexism firsthand in Ivy League America. After nineteen years at Columbia, and the publication of numerous breakthrough articles in genetics, Salome still held the same Research Associate position that she had been given at the beginning of her tenure there. In 1955, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine came to her rescue by providing her with a full faculty position in their new Department of Genetics, where she has remained ever since.
In 1980, I had the personal pleasure of working with Salome at Einstein, when she was just seventy-three years old. At that time, she still went into her mouse room every morning of the week to examine and record newborn mice and to set up new matings of animals that carried various mutations in the t complex on chromosome 17 and around the albino locus on chromosome 7. Her breeding studies were supported by one of the longest continuously running grants ever to be awarded by the American Cancer Society.
It was not until late in her career (when most people her age were already retired) that Salome was recognized for the major contributions that she had made to the field of developmental genetics and for her role in nurturing and encouraging women to pursue scientific careers. In 1979, she was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and made an Honorary Life Member of the New York Academy of Sciences. In the 1980s, she was made a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 1993, she personally received the National Medal of Science from President Clinton and Vice President Gore, and in 1995, she was made a foreign fellow of the Royal Society of the United Kingdom. Over these years, as well, she was awarded numerous honorary degrees, including one from Columbia University in recognition of their earlier inability to retain a truly great woman of science.
The Genetics Society of America annually honors members who have made outstanding contributions to genetics. The Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal recognizes a lifetime contribution to the science of genetics. The Genetics Society of America Medal recognizes particularly outstanding contributions to the science of genetics within the past fifteen years. This year we have established a new award. The George W. Beadle Medal recognizes distinguished service to the field of genetics and the community of geneticists. We are pleased to announce the 1999 awards.
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