Ruth Ella Moore (292032)
Credit: Howard University photo ( (

Following my usual pattern of seeking to tie one week’s profile with another led me to Ruth Ella Moore, who like last week’s feature on Dr. Harold Amos earned a number of firsts as a Black American in science and the medical field. In fact, given that both at one time did research on E. coli you wonder if their paths may have crossed at some point.

They certainly intersected in the realm of the natural sciences and an interest in biology and bacteriology. Born in Columbus, Ohio in 1903, Moore was 15 years older than Dr. Amos. Her mother, Margaret Moore, was an accomplished artist and a graduate of the Columbus State College of Art and Design. It comes as no surprise that she encouraged her daughter to pursue a degree in higher education, which she did with great success at Ohio State University.

After her graduation in 1925, Moore went on to earn her masters of science degree two years later. She also earned her Ph.D. in bacteriology from Ohio State University in 1933, the first African woman to earn such a degree. Seven years later she was an assistant professor at Howard University’s medical college, a position she held until she retired in 1973.

During her tenure at Howard she moved steadily up the ladder to becoming an associate professor and chair of the Bacteriology Department. Her administrative duties did not stop her from continuing her research and becoming a member of several prestigious scientific organizations, including the American Association of Science, the American Society of Immunology and the American Society of Microbiology, where she possibly bumped into Dr. Amos.

She was the recipient of countless awards, citations, and honorary degrees, and that included a doctorate in literature from Oberlin College and a doctor of philosophy from Gettysburg University in 1973.

From a paper she wrote for the Howard University School of Medicine you gather an idea of the extent of her research subjects and the intensity of her probe. “In this paper on the immunology of dental caries, a number of facts should be mentioned which are of importance from an immunological as well as bacteriological standpoint; namely, etiological agent, immune bodies or antibodies, skin testing, and the possibility of vaccine therapy. The etiological agent has been grouped under two headings: those of the exciting or instigating and the predisposing factors. The most important of the predisposing factors is that of diet; while the exciting or instigating factor is now known as Bacillus Acidophilus. This organism has fulfilled the first two rules of Koch’s postulates, but the third and fourth rules of the postulate have been demonstrated in vitro. Bacillus Acidophilus being an aciduric organism utilizes the carbohydrates present, especially in those on a high carbohydrate diet; thus producing an ideal condition for the organism’s growth and the activity of the carious process. This is well illustrated by a number of workers. As Baccillus Acidophilus is present constantly in the mouths of all caries susceptible patients, and its absence is noted in the mouths of caries-free patients, the question arises as to whether some substance is present in the saliva which may act as a bactericidal agent, and thus destroy the organism. It would be extremely interesting if antibodies for Bacillus Acidophilus could be demonstrated in the saliva, particularly in those termed caries-free individuals.”

To say this is heavy lifting is to understate the medical background and expertise necessary to get a full grasp of the paper. Some of the findings here would later be introduced in her research on Salmonella and E. coli.

But science was not the only endeavor to occupy her talents and curiosity. She was also quite adept as a seamstress and possibly from her mother received a style of elegance in her creations. Much of the clothes she wore she designed and made. “Keeping with the latest style and fashion, she was known to carefully select her patterns and materials for crafting the outfits. Several of her garments were featured in The Sewer’s Art: Quality, Fashion and Economy, in 2009,” according to a brief biography in an Ohio State University publication.

Ruth Ella Moore died July 19, 1994.