In this letter, Dunn shared with Lederberg his recollections of how Harriett Ephrussi-Taylor came to be interested in Avery's
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1972-10-14 (October 14, 1972)
Dunn, L. C.
Courtesy of Joshua Lederberg.
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Medical Subject Headings (MeSH):
History of Medicine
After the Discovery: The Transforming Principle's Reception by the Scientific Community
Letter from Joshua Lederberg to L. C. Dunn (October 11, 1972)
Letter from L. C. Dunn to Joshua Lederberg (October 12, 1972)
Letter from Joshua Lederberg to L. C. Dunn (October 18, 1972)
Your letter of October 11 and the copy of Olby's very useful paper which you enclosed put the questions you ask about
Harriett Taylor in a clearer light. I have doubts that I shall be able to answer them from documents since apparently all
of my correspondence with students was kept with department matters (I was then executive officer) and cannot now be found.
Nor does Harriett's name appear in the index of my correspondence which is now in the APS library. But, I shall hunt when
next I go to Columbia Library for her dissertation and notes and have another go at an ex department secretary to see what
became of department papers of that era.
On only a few questions will I trust my memory 1) Harriett came to work on developmental genetics in mice -- but during my
absence one term she got interested in yeast and called me to a new room she had acquired on 10th floor
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near Ryan's to show me material and observations she had already made. I believe I said I could be of little help with
such a problem -- but felt that students should be free to choose sponsor and problem (better sponsor first) she didn't
ask for other sponsorship, but just went ahead largely on her own. I'm sure she must have talked with Francis I have no
memory of how she found an interest in yeast -- later it crossed my mind it might have come via Boris. What is certain is
that long afterward she and Boris came together to enquire how she could get her degree awarded, something in which she herself
had no great interest. I told them the University and science Faculty still maintained the requirement that after all other
conditions had been met the final and necessary one was publication in an acceptable journal. As I recall Boris said "Then
Harriett let us publish." But if it happened I don't know; thats a question to be settled from faculty records in
the dean's office. (George Wald as I remember was for long in the same position -- if in limbo, then not suffering for
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I recall no relationship with Selig Hecht. She probably spent one summer at Cold Spring Harbor as genetics students often
did since we had one (or two) scholarships there. I believe that's where Bryson got interested in microbiology and perhaps
it was the same in Harriett's case.
But how Avery's torch was transmitted I don't know. She certainly understood the problems consequent upon DNA as transformant
-- her 1951 C.S.H Sympos paper shows that clearly -- but if she told you about Avery it must have been soon after the 1944
[?] paper was published. I don't believe we had discussed that paper in seminar until two or more years later. I tried
just now to reach Harriett's friend of that time -- Reba Mirsky -- but she's apparently away. Mirsky may just possibly
have been the liason [sic] in this case (Reba, I believe was somewhat later than Harriett as graduate student)
I'll send you news as soon as I get it -- but I think it must come from written records