North Central College - Naperville, IL

Dr. Mildred Rebstock ’42 feted for important antibiotic discovery

The North Central Now will continue to profile distinguished science division alumni as the College shapes its vision for a 21st century science facility.

From the science labs of Goldspohn Hall in the early 1940s came a scientist who was featured in Time magazine, honored in Washington D.C., and nominated for a Nobel Prize. Dr. Mildred Rebstock was given much of the credit for finding a synthetic form of chloromycetin. At the time, antibiotics had to be grown slowly from molds and the rarity of chloromycetin (discovered in 1947) limited its widespread use in combating diseases like typhoid fever and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. That changed with Rebstock’s discovery in 1949.

“[Finding the synthetic form] allowed chloromycetin to be more widely available, and it’s a broad spectrum antibiotic used for many diseases,” says Rebstock, who lives in Ann Arbor, MI, not far from where she worked at Parke-Davis Research Labs (now Warner-Lambert, Parke-Davis). She was one of just a handful of women to be working as researchers at the time.

Rebstock is now nearing 90, and she says the specifics of the discovery aren’t as clear as they once were. But she does vividly remember receiving a Woman of the Year Award in 1950 from the Women’s National Press Club. To receive it, she traveled to Washington, D.C. “We honor this young Midwest scientist for her achievement in making a chemical identical to one of nature’s ‘wonder drugs,’ chloromycetin,” said President Harry Truman in presenting the award.

Recalls Rebstock about the prestigious event: “It was dreamy.”

Time magazine in 1949 ran her photo with an article about the discovery, noting that “the achievement was due to teamwork. But a large part of the credit goes to pretty Dr. Mildred Rebstock, a 28-year-old research chemist. She chose the field because ‘I just liked that sort of thing better than some others.’”

North Central NOW Fall 2009