Primary Sources & Lesson Plans
Public education provided a wonderful opportunity for students such as Gertrude Elion. Contrary to popular assumptions, education generally served not as the path from rags to riches for immigrants, but rather as a way to perpetuate the economic security already achieved by the first generation with the educational accomplishments of the second. Elion, the child of immigrants, became a chemist and developed the first chemotherapy for childhood leukemia, the immunosuppressant that made organ transplantation possible, the first effective anti-viral medication, and treatments for lupus, hepatitis, arthritis, gout, and other diseases.
As this early report card indicates, Elion was a superior student in many although not all areas. She used her educational opportunities fully, continuing on to Hunter College, which was free to those students able to gain admittance. As a woman in the overwhelmingly male-dominated field of chemistry, however, Elion experienced a great deal of gender discrimination. Despite her outstanding record as an undergraduate, no graduate school was willing to fund her work as a doctoral candidate. She struggled for acceptance and legitimacy in much of her early work, but she persevered and achieved great scientific breakthroughs from which humanity still benefits. She won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1988.
For more information on Elion and her accomplishments, go to JWAs Women of Valor Gertrude Elion exhibit.
1. Compare Elions report card to one of your own. What similarities and differences do you see?
2. Select a subject in which you are not evaluated but Elion was. What do you think were the criteria for this subject? Why are students no longer graded in this area today?
3. In what areas does Elion do less well than others?
4. Why do you think there are some blank columns on this report card?
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