Marguerite Davis Biography (1887-1967)
Marguerite Davis is best known as co-discoverer of vitamins A and B. Her research at the University of Wisconsin in Madison with biochemist Elmer Verner McCollum led to definitive identification of both vitamins and paved the way for later research in nutrition.
Davis was born on September 16, 1887, in Racine, Wisconsin. Her father, Jefferson J. Davis, was a physician and botanist who taught at the University of Wisconsin. Her grandmother, Amy Davis Winship, was a social worker and an early champion of women's rights. Her background, coupled with her own interest in science, led her to enroll at the University of Wisconsin in 1906. She transferred to the University of California at Berkeley in 1908 and received herbachelor of science degree there in 1910. Upon graduation, she returned to the University of Wisconsin and pursued graduate studies, although she never completed the master's program. She worked briefly for the Squibbs Pharmaceutical Company in New Brunswick, New Jersey, but returned to Wisconsin.
It was during her time at the University of Wisconsin that she began her workwith McCollum, who had been studying nutrition for several years. The Dutchphysician Christiaan Eijkman and the British biochemist Sir Frederick Gowland Hopkins had determined that traces of as-yet unidentified elements in foods were essential for adequate nutrition. The Polish-American biochemist Casimir Funk, believing the substances were amines, proposed the name"vitamine"--literally, "life-giving amine" (when it later became clear that not all the substances were amines the "e" was dropped). McCollum was trying to create simple mixtures that could replace natural food in animal diets. Although his efforts were unsuccessful, he wanted to find out whether natural food contained some special substance like that proposed by Eijkman and Hopkins.
Davis and McCollum worked with various food components and in 1913 discovereda factor in some fats that apparently was essential to life. Because the substance differed chemically from one described earlier by Eijkman, Davis and McCollum named theirs fat-soluble A and Eijkman's water-soluble B. These werelater called vitamins A and B. The identification of A and B led later to thediscovery of the other vitamins and their specific roles in nutrition, as well as which foods contain them.
Davis joined the University of Wisconsin's chemical research staff and founded its nutrition laboratory. She later went on to Rutgers University in New Jersey and organized a similar lab for its school of pharmacy. She retired andmoved back to Racine in 1940 but continued to serve as a chemistry consultantfor many years. She became active in Racine civic affairs and pursued otherinterests, including history and gardening. In 1958 Racine's Women's Civic Council recognized Davis for her contributions as a civic leader. Davis died inRacine on September 19, 1967, three days after her eightieth birthday.