Alice Augusta Ball (July 24, 1892 – December 31, 1916) was an African American chemist who developed an injectable oil extract that was the most effective treatment of leprosy until the 1940s. She was also the first woman and first African American to graduate from the University of Hawaii with a master’s degree.
Alice Augusta Ball died on December 31, 1916, at the age of 24. She had become ill during her research and returned to Seattle for treatment a few months before her death.A 1917 newspaper article from the Pacific Commercial Advertiser suggested that the cause may have been chlorine poisoning that occurred while teaching.However, the cause of her death is unknown as her original death certificate was altered, giving the cause of death as tuberculosis.
Although her research career was short, Ball introduced a new treatment of Hansen’s disease which continued to be used until the 1940s. The University of Hawaii did not recognize her work for nearly ninety years. In 2000, the university finally honored Ball by dedicating a plaque to her on the school’s lone chaulmoogra tree behind Bachman Hall. On the same day, the former Lieutenant Governor of Hawaii, Mazie Hirono, declared February 29 “Alice Ball Day” which is now celebrated every four years. More recently, Ball was honored by the University of Hawaii Board of Regents with a Medal of Distinction in 2007.