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Harvard Chemist Mary Fieser Dies at 87

Steroid Researcher Remembered as 'A Mother' to Generations of Students


Mary P. Fieser, an internationally-known researcher who was at the heart of the chemistry department, died Saturday, March 22 at her Belmont home at the age of 87.

Fieser, who was officially a research assistant in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, gained international recognition for her work focusing on the chemistry of steroids.

Elias J. Corey, Emery professor of organic chemistry and a close friend of Fieser, praised her intellectual work in a press release.

"She was one of the outstanding women chemists in the world," said Corey, who received the 1990 Nobel Prize in chemistry. "She was a major figure in our department."

Fieser received the Garvan Medal of the American Chemical Society as well as an honorary degree from Smith College.

The renovated organic chemistry laboratory was named for Fieser and her husband, Louis F. Fieser, former Emery professor of organic chemistry. Together, they authored influential textbooks and a 16-volume reference series, Reagents for Organic Synthesis.

Members of the department lauded fieser for both her academic and personal contributions to the department. In a 1996 piece, the Chemical and Engineering News said her warmth, style, grit and deep intelligence added immeasurably to the department.

"She was like a mother for generations of graduate and undergraduate students," Corey said.

Although Fieser received her master's degree from Radcliffe in 1931, she did not pursue a Ph.D. because female doctoral students were rare at the time. Instead, she officially became her husband's research assistant and was allotted basement laboratory space.

Fieser, a native of Atchinson, Kansas who was raised in Pennsylvania, received her bachelor's degree from Bryn Mawr College in 1930.

There are no immediate survivors.

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