by Nicole Elmer, June 16, 2016

Morrow Marie 1944 
 Marie Betzner Morrow in 1944

In midcentury America, it wasn’t common to find many women in academia or even doing Ph.D. level work. For those who were involved, it was often expected of them to entirely drop their careers and research in order to marry and raise children. The common attitude at the time was that working women made poor mothers.

The first female Ph.D. in Zoology at UT Austin was Bessie Beakely League, who completed her degree in 1931. In addition, from the end of the 1930s through the 1950s, there were only two women in natural sciences at UT Austin who held tenured positions. One was Dr. Marie Betzner Morrow, who was both a student and professor in the early years of the natural sciences at UT, with her research primarily focusing on soil microbes and mold spores. This article takes a brief look at her life and her involvement at UT.

 

HER EARLY YEARS

Morrow was born on August 22, 1895, nine days after her parents, Warren Morrow and Mary Betzner, married in Bunker Hill, Indiana.  Morrow’s maternal grandparents were from Germany, her grandfather Louis F. Betnzer specifically from Baden-Württemburg. Morrow’s family were early farmers and merchants in Miami County, Indiana.

Early in Morrow’s childhood, the family moved to Oklahoma and then further south to Mercedes, Texas, a town of around 1000 also known as “The Queen City of the Valley” or “La Reina del Valle.” The Morrows were one of the early families in this pioneering community near the border of Mexico.

 Mercedes TX highschool 1915  MercedesTXCa1915

 High School in Mercedes, TX in 1915

Source: Traces of Texas

 Mercedes, TX in 1917

Source: USGen Web Project

ENTERING HIGHER EDUCATION

Morrow’s path through higher education in the early 20th century would seem non traditional even by today’s standards. Morrow graduated from high school in Mercedes. With a teaching certificate, she taught in different public schools in the Valley, until she enrolled in her first summer session at UT in 1918. She continued to take the summer session courses for five years, teaching in the Valley between sessions during the long semesters. Finally, in 1923, she enrolled as an undergraduate at UT.

Like many of the early students at UT interested in graduate-level science course work, Morrow would obtain all three

 Morrow Marie 1927
 Morrow's Cactus Yearbook photo from 1927

of her degrees at UT Austin, in the same Department. In Morrow's case, this was the Department of Botany and Bacteriology; she earned a B.A. in 1926 at the age of 31, an M.A. in 1927 at 32, and her Ph.D. in 1932, at the age of 37. Her master’s thesis was entitled “A correlation study of microflora and pH value of soils from typical plant associations,” and was written under the direction of microbiologist I.M. Lewis. Her Ph.D. thesis was supervised by Botany Professor G.W. Goldsmith, and was entitled “Critical studies of soil and vegetation relations.”  

 

THE ACADEMIC CAREER

After she received her M.A. in 1927, Morrow became an instructor at UT, teaching courses in general botany and plant morphology, as well as writing the lab manuals for these courses. She remained an instructor for twelve years, finally promoted to Assistant Professor in the Department of Botany and Bacteriology, a position she held from 1939 to 1945. When these two departments split, she remained with Botany as an Associate Professor from 1945-1957. In September of 1957, she transferred to the Department of Microbiology (formerly Bacteriology), and in 1965 she would devote her study full time to research in mycology.

Morrow’s research focus in her 1932 dissertation was on the differences between the microorganisms in the soil in a Bastrop County pine forest and those in oak forests neighboring the UT Campus, a major difference being how mold predominated the Bastrop soil samples. This work brought her the attention of Dr. Charles Thom of the Bureau of Chemistry and Soils of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The two would continue to work together to identify associations between soil microbes and plant roots. One of the most important results of her work with the USDA was helping to develop an early method of controlling plant disease by using harmless molds to inoculate cottonseeds and prevent root rot disease.

Shortly after receiving her Ph.D., Morrow started working with Texas allergists on the correlation between airborne mold spores and allergies. She was able to isolate and identify seasonally-specific molds and map their geographical distribution. The extracts from her cultures would assist physicians when testing their patients’ sensitivities. When these extract preparations moved to commercial facilities, Morrow remained in academia, preferring to teach, while still monitoring these cultures for the pharmaceutical industry.

Morrow Marie inLab1943 
 Morrow in her lab, 1944

Throughout her career, she authored or co-authored over 150 papers in scientific journals, bringing her international attention in the field of fungal aerobiology. Morrow was also chairperson of the Fungal Allergy Committee of the American Medical Association, and part of the team at the Department of Microbiology at UT that researched the microbiology of the Antarctic. 

Morrow retired as Associate Professor in 1970, but would work in her laboratory up until her death on December 24, 1971. Morrow had been suffering from a malignancy of the esophagus. She was 76 years old.

Her sister, Lorene Kelly Morrow, established two endowments to honor the family: The Marie Betzner Morrow Centennial Chair and the Mary M. Betzner Morrow Centennial Chair in Microbiology, named after their mother. 

 

SOURCES

Bodurtha, Arthur (Editor). History of Miami County, Indiana, Volume II, 1914. The Lewis Publishing Company.

College of Natural Sciences Facebook posting from March 5, 2015. (https://www.facebook.com/texasscience/photos/a.61062965193.82959.42554750193/10152565232540194/ accessed March 10, 2016

History of Miami County, Indiana.  1887. Brant & Fuller.

In Memoriam: Marie Betnzer Morrow 1895-1971, UT Austin Faulty Memorials (http://www.utexas.edu/faculty/council/2000-2001/memorials/SCANNED/morrow.pdf accessed Feb 10, 2016)

“Indiana Marriages, 1811-2007,” database with images, Family Search, (http:///familysearch.org/ark:/61903?1:1QV99-25XB accessed 3 March 2016), Warren Morrow and Mary M. Betnzer, 1895

“Obituaries,” Sabouradia: Journal of Medical and Veterinary Mycology, Vol. 10, Issue 1, 1972.

Peru Evening Journal, September 15, 1903. (http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=Betzner&GSiman=1&GSst=17&GSsr=41&GRid=40152008& accessed March 1, 2016)

Peru Daily Chronicle, September 15, 1903. (http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=Betzner&GSiman=1&GSst=17&GSsr=41&GRid=40152008& accessed March 1, 2016)

Peru Daily Chronicle, July 10, 1911 (http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=40152161 accessed March 1, 2016)

Miami County Sentinel, June 12, 1894 (http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=67979917 accessed March 1, 2016)