Women of Valor

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Thirst for Knowledge

Gertrude Elion, 1918 - 1999

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"I couldn't wait to go to school. I used to drive my parents crazy, because they said I couldn't go to school yet. But I already knew how to read, so why was I going to not go to school?"


Gertrude ("Trudy") Elion was born in New York City on January 23, 1918. Her father, Robert Elion, a dentist, had immigrated to the United States from Lithuania at the age of 12. Her mother, Bertha Cohen, came to America alone at the age of 14 from the part of Russia that is now Poland; studying English at night school, she worked in the needle trades before marrying Robert at 19.

From a very young age, Trudy displayed the qualities that would lead her to a Nobel Prize. Even before she started school, she wished to learn about the world around her. A voracious reader with "an insatiable thirst for knowledge," she was interested in everything around her. "It didn't matter if it was history, languages, or science," she later recalled. "I was just like a sponge."

As a student at the all-girls Walton High School in the Bronx, Elion was not yet focused on science. Exploring history, writing, and performing, she received the school's Cooperation in Government Award and a prize in American history; belonged to the History Dramatic Club, the Electron Science Club, and the Glee Club; and published an essay and a poem in the yearbook. Propelled by her quick intelligence, she skipped two grades and graduated from high school in 1933, at the age of 15.

Notes: 
  1. Quote "an insatiable thirst for knowledge" from autobiography of Gertrude Elion on the website of the Nobel Foundation, accessed February 16, 2000; available at http://www.nobel.se/medicine/laureates/1988/elion-autobio.html
  2. Quote beginning "It didn't matter..." from Sharon Bertsch McGrayne, Nobel Prize Women in Science: Their Lives, Struggles, and Momentous Discoveries (New York: Carol Publishing Group, 1993), 286.
  3. Information on Elion's high school activities from "Gertrude Elion Memorial" (Video), March 27, 1999, GlaxoSmithKline Inc. Heritage Center.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Women of Valor - Gertrude Elion - Thirst for Knowledge." (Viewed on April 24, 2014) <http://jwa.org/womenofvalor/elion/thirst-for-knowledge>.