In Memoriam: Frances Oldham Kelsey, 1914-2015

kelsey2Frances Oldham Kelsey, a former professor of pharmacology at the University of South Dakota and a former member of the faculty at the University of Chicago, died on August 7 at her daughter’s home in London, Ontario. She was 101 years old.

Dr. Kelsey is best known for her work in the early 1960s at the Food and Drug Administration where she was in charge of reviewing the marketing application for a drug called thalidomide. Despite pressure from the manufacturer, she refused to grant a permit to market the drug as she believed its safety had not been proven. The drug was never approved in the United States but was used in other countries and produced serious birth defects. For these efforts, in 1962 Dr. Kelsey received the President’s Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service from John F. Kennedy. She was only the second women to win the award.

Dr. Stephen M. Ostroff, acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said that Dr. Kelsey was “a true pioneer in public health and consumer protection. The FDA continues to be defined by the same rigor, dedication, and integrity that informed Dr. Kelsey’s work.”

Dr. Kelsey earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at McGill University in Montreal. She earned a Ph.D. and a medical doctorate at the University of Chicago. She retired from the FDA in 2005 at the age of 90.

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