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Swanson, Pearl

Published onJul 30, 2021
Swanson, Pearl

(September 13, 1895 - May 21, 1980)

Quick Facts

Professor and Agricultural Experiment Station Director, Swanson became the first woman in the United States to serve as an assistant director of an experiment station.

Pearl Swanson was born in Cokato, Minnesota to Frank and Maria (Sigfridson) Swanson.

Swanson earned a BS in chemistry from Carleton College in 1916. After teaching high school chemistry for a couple of years, she earned an MS in nutrition in 1924 from the University of Minnesota. Immediately following, she taught nutrition at Montana State College. She then went to Yale and earned a PhD in 1930 in physiological chemistry.

Her career started when she taught chemistry at Fairbault High School in Fairbault, MN. She then became an instructor of chemistry at Carleton College from 1920-1922. She then took a job as an Associate Professor of nutrition at Montana State College. In 1930, Swanson started at Iowa State College (now University) as an Associate Professor of nutrition, and made full Professor in 1936. She would spend the rest of her career (and life) in Ames.

Dr. Swanson became the first woman in the United States to serve as an assistant director of an experiment station when she started leading the home economics division in 1944. She would hold this position until 1961. She was in charge of home economics research and director of graduate studies in food and nutrition.

Swanson belonged to numerous professional organizations including the American Institute of Nutrition, the American Dietetics Association, the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine, and the Iowa Academy of Science.

Through her career, Swanson published more than 90 papers in scientific and professional journals. She had a range of research areas including metabolism of proteins and amino acids, dietary requirements for reproduction, nutritional status of population groups, role of inorganic salts in nutrition, and the problems relating to utilization of nutrients in aging women. She also made significant contributions to the emergency diets adopted during WWII.

In 1955, Swanson was awarded a Borden Award by the American Home Economics Association. She was also elected as a Fellow of the Academy from the New York Academy of Sciences in 1960 and was selected as a fellow of the American Institute of Nutrition in 1977.

Swanson received a faculty citation from ISU in 1958. Upon her retirement in 1967, a graduate fellowship fund in Home Economics was established in Swanson’s honor by ISU alumnae, colleagues, and friends across the country.

Swanson retired from Iowa State in 1967 with the distinction of Professor Emeritus. She died in Ames in May of 1980 and is interred in the Iowa State University Cemetery.

Selected Sources

Eppright, Ercel S., Bess. Ferguson, and Iowa State University. Home Economics Alumni Association. A Century of Home Economics at Iowa State University. A Proud Past, a Lively Present, a Future Promise. Written by Ercel Sherman Eppright and Elizabeth Storm Ferguson. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1971.

Iowa State University, Pearl Pauline Swanson Papers, RS 9/2/51, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library.

20th Century Women at Iowa State, online exhibition.

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