Ellen Swallow Richards
Image courtesy of the MIT Museum
A life filled with firsts
Ellen Swallow Richards, MIT’s first female graduate and faculty member, opened the door for women in science, and founded ecology and home economics along the way.
In 1887, the Massachusetts State Board of Health commissioned MIT’s new laboratory of sanitary chemistry to survey the state’s drinking water, the first such study in America. Led by Ellen H. Swallow Richards, an instructor at the lab, the two-year survey analyzed more than 20,000 samples collected from inland bodies of water that had been polluted with industrial waste and sewage. As a result of the findings from the landmark study, Massachusetts established the first water-quality standards and municipal sewage-treatment plant in the country.
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