Yes, Leprosy was before our time! But if you have heard of it, you should have heard of Alice Augusta Ball. She was an American chemist who developed the “Ball Method”, the most effective treatment for leprosy during the early 20th century.
She was the first woman and first African American to receive a master’s degree from the University of Hawaii, and was also the university’s first female and African American chemistry professor. Alice was one of four children born into a middle class well to do family. Alice’s father was the editor of the newspaper Colored Citizens, a photographer and a lawyer. Her mother was also a photographer. Her grandfather, James Ball, Sr., was a famous photographer, and one of the first Black Americans to make use of daguerreotypy,[ the process of printing photographs onto metal plates. Some researchers have suggested that her parents’ and grandfather’s love for photography may have played a role in her love for chemistry, as they worked with mercury vapors and iodine sensitized silver plates to develop photos.
At the University of Hawaii, Ball investigated the chemical makeup and active principle of Piper methysticum (kava) for her master’s thesis. Because of this work, she was contacted by Dr. Harry T. Hollmann at Kalihi Hospital in Hawaii, who needed an assistant for his research into the treatment of leprosy.