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Cora M. Downs

Year Inducted: 
2008
Cora M. Downs
Highlights: 
  • 1959: Developed a pioneering fluorescent antibody staining technique
  • Rickettsia research described in 1958 Encyclopedia Britannica under section “significant science progress”
  • Conducted top-secret service during World War II with the U.S. Army Biological Laboratories
  • International Women’s Year Award for Health Protection of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare
  • Portrait hangs in International Gallery of Medical Honor of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR in Moscow
  • 1964: received KU’s highest honor, the Citation for Distinguished Service
Biography: 

Cora M. Downs received her A.B., M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Kansas.  Her first teaching appointment at KU was in 1917 as an instructor in bacteriology during her master’s study.  Except for top-secret service during World War II with the U.S. Army Biological Laboratories, Fort Dietrich, Maryland, she remained a member of the KU faculty until her retirement from teaching in 1963.

Within five years of receiving her Ph.D. in 1924, she gained national recognition for her work on tularemia, a viral disease known as “rabbit fever.”  Her subsequent research provided important insights into the understanding of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, rickettsia, and “Q” fever.  Her research on rickettsia was described in the 1958 Encyclopedia Britannica under the section entitled “significant science progress.”  For this work, she received a nearly $20,000 grant in 1961 from the U.S. Public Health Service; by that time she had already been awarded over $300,000 in research grants.  Perhaps her best known achievement was the development in 1959 of a fluorescent antibody staining technique, used to trace and identify viruses in a living organism and in test tube cultures.  Her article detailing this technique was cited in 1976 as the eighth most frequently cited article in the field of pathology.

Dr. Downs worked at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in 1939-40, and was a Special Fellow of the National Institutes of Health at Oxford University in 1959.  Among her most significant recognitions have been her appointment as Summerfield Distinguished Professor of Microbiology at KU, the International Women’s Year Award for Health Protection of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, and her designation as “Woman of the Year” by the Federal Regional Council, District VII, in 1975.  She was featured in the November 1974 issue of the “Newsletter” of the American Society of Microbiology, and again in the January 1975 issue, together with five other distinguished women members of the Society.  She is one of only four women to have been designated honorary members of the Society.  In 1979, the Missouri Valley Branch of the Society voted unanimously to rename its annual graduate student award for her.  Her portrait hangs in the International Gallery of Medical Honor of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR in Moscow.  In 1964 she received KU’s highest honor, the Citation for Distinguished Service.

This citation was copied from the University of Kansas Program for the November 3, 1981 Dedication of Strong and Dyche Auditoria in Honor of Ray Q. Brewster and Cora M. Downs.

Quotes: 
People think I seek publicity, and I don’t….I’m just a woman who has done something she very much wanted to do, that’s all.

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