What’s in a Name? Frances Oldham Kelsey and the Power of Skepticism

If Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey had been named Mary, Helen, or Dorothy, it’s possible that thousands of babies would have died or been born with debilitating birth defects.

In the mid-1930s, after earning a master’s degree in pharmacology in her native Canada, Frances Oldham wrote to Eugene Geiling, a researcher at the University of Chicago, asking to work in his lab and study for a doctorate. Assuming Frances was a man, Dr. Geiling replied with an offer of a scholarship, addressing the letter to “Mr. Oldham.”


Dr. Kelsey upends the stereotype of the government bureaucrat. She saved lives by being a stickler for details.


Reflecting on the incident in an autobiography, she remembered Dr. Geiling as a “very conservative and old-fashioned” man who “did not hold too much with women as scientists.” His assumption that Frances Oldham was male might have played a role in her scholarship and subsequent education, which prepared her for a career that touched every American.

From an Early Victory in Chicago to a New Career in Washington, D.C.

After moving to Chicago, Frances Oldham earned a doctorate in pharmacology in 1938 and a medical degree in 1950. Along the way, she got married, becoming Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey, and gave birth to two daughters.

Her work in Dr. Geiling’s lab provided early experience in unraveling medical mysteries. In 1937, more than 100 people, including 34 children, died after taking a liquid sulfa drug formulated with an artificial fruit flavor. Dr. Geiling’s team of scientists soon identified the problem: The medicine was composed primarily of antifreeze — along with the active ingredient, coloring, and flavorings. It was sent to market with no testing. Public outrage led to the 1938 passage of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which required manufacturers to provide evidence to the FDA that their drugs were safe. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: Lauren Kuby for Tempe City Council

Reproductive health care access has been under attack, both nationally and statewide, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed candidates who have shown strong commitment to reproductive justice. The Tempe general election will be held on March 13, 2018, with ballots mailed to registered voters on February 14. Make your voice heard in 2018!

In the upcoming Tempe special election, there are six candidates vying for three open City Council seats. Tempe residents will also cast their votes for three separate ballot initiatives. For the first time in the city’s history, all registered voters will receive their ballots by mail. Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona (PPAA) has endorsed two Tempe City Council candidates: Genevieve Vega and Lauren Kuby.


“I’m a woman who turns words into action!”


Lauren Kuby is running for reelection to the City Council in order to continue building a sustainable future for Tempe. During her tenure in office, Ms. Kuby has advocated for policies ranging from equal pay to environmental protection to campaign finance reform. In 2012, the Arizona Republic named Ms. Kuby one of five “Tempe newsmakers” who impacted the city over the course of the year. If reelected to the City Council, Ms. Kuby will continue fighting for her vision of Tempe as a “compassionate,” “diverse,” and “innovative” community.

On February 19, 2018, Ms. Kuby took the time to be interviewed by PPAA, offering insight into her background and the motivations behind her candidacy.

Tell us a little about your background.

My family always told me that I was bound for a life of community service. I trace that path back to 1958, when my parents were volunteering for JFK’s senate campaign in small-town Massachusetts. One day, JFK unexpectedly visited, with no entourage, our local campaign office. He asked for coffee, and my dad raced home to percolate a cup, leaving 8-month-old me and my mom alone with the family hero. “Your baby makes me miss my Caroline. Can I hold her?” The story of JFK rocking me as a baby became family lore and a large part of my identity.
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