Microbiologist Barbara Iglewski Named to National Women’s Hall of Fame

Mar. 11, 2015

Barbara H. Iglewski, Ph.D., professor emeritus in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry will be inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame later this year, an incredible honor that puts her aside women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony, former first lady Betty Ford, and founder of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation Nancy Brinker.

One of 10 inductees in 2015, Iglewski was selected for her research on how bacteria cause infections. Her laboratory was the first to discover that bacteria use a communication system – a type of chemical language – to coordinate attacks on human cells and initiate disease.  Her work launched an entire field of study into how the system works in many types of bacteria. Several drugs designed to interrupt this communication process and prevent infection are being developed.

“I think the Hall of Fame is amazing and I am overwhelmed by this huge honor,” said Iglewski, who is the first woman from the medical school and the third from the University to be inducted. “When you look at all of the members, women who have had such a profound influence on me and so many others in our society, it puts you in awe of what they have accomplished.”

Iglewski pursued a career in science after accompanying her father, a country physician, on house calls and spending hours answering the phone and playing with microscopes in his office. She received her Ph.D. in microbiology from Penn State University, held her first position as an instructor at the Oregon Health and Science University School of Medicine, and was recruited to the University of Rochester in 1986 to serve as chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. She was the first female department chair at the School of Medicine and Dentistry, a position she held until 2009.

The author of more than 150 research papers and book chapters, Iglewski is recognized by the Institute of Scientific Information as a highly cited scientist, a group that makes up less than 0.5 percent of all publishing researchers. She served as president of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) from 1987 to 1988 and chaired their publications board from 1990 to 1999 – a time when very few women served on editorial boards. Iglewski made it her goal to change that and helped many women obtain editorial positions at various scientific journals.

Iglewski says that science is a team sport and credits her success to many fantastic colleagues, students, and postdoctoral fellows who she worked with over the course of her career.

“Barbara has been a true pioneer and a wonderful role model for a whole generation of researchers, as well as a superb mentor and advocate. She has paved the way for many other female scientists and leaders not only here at the School of Medicine and Dentistry, but also nationally through her role at the ASM,” said Stephen Dewhurst, Ph.D., vice dean for research and chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the medical school. “I personally owe Barbara a huge debt of gratitude. Not only did she give me my first faculty job, but she also gave me the mentoring support that I needed to be successful over the following two decades.”

Iglewski was recognized with the School of Medicine and Dentistry’s Lifetime Mentoring Award in 2009, the Susan B. Anthony Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001 and the Arthur Kornberg Research Award in 1999.

The National Women’s Hall of Fame is the nation’s oldest organization dedicated to recognizing and celebrating the achievements of great American women. It was created in 1969 by a group of community members in Seneca Falls, considered the birthplace of the American Women's Rights Movement and where the first known women's rights convention was held in 1848. Every two years, the Hall honors a group of women nominated by the public and chosen by a national panel of experts. This year’s induction ceremony will take place on October 3.

Loretta C. Ford, R.N., founding dean of the University of Rochester School of Nursing, was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2011 and Judith Pipher, professor emeritus of physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester, was inducted in 2007.