Dr. Jessie Isabelle Price – Veterinary Microbiologist

Dr. Jessie Isabelle Price

“I’m confident we’ll succeed.” – Dr. Price commenting on her work regarding the avian diseases that affected Pekin Ducks – for which she developed a vaccine as a result of her extremely effective research. [5]


Name: Dr. Jessie Isabelle Price

Life: 1st January 1930 – 12th November 2015 (85 years)

Born: Montrose, Pennsylvania

Died: Madison, Wisconsin


BSc Microbiology, 1953, Cornell University

MSc Veterinary Bacteriology, Pathology, and Parasitology, 1958, Cornell University

PhD Microbiology, 1959, Cornell University

Occupation: Veterinary Microbiologist, tenured researcher, Professor of Microbiology


Who was Dr. Jessie Price?

Dr. Price was an acclaimed microbiologist. Gaining her PhD from Cornell University in the 50’s she is most commonly known for her work on developing a vaccine against the virus Pasteurella Anatipestifer found in ducks and other waterfowl. The disease killed about 10% – 30% of ducks in duck farms annually, costing approximately $250,000. (Note: In 1964 $250,000 USD is equivalent to approximately $2,032,629.45 now, which is approximately £1,550,012.08 GBP).


Early life

Born in the new year of 1930 Price was raised by her single mother, Teresa Price in Montrose, Pennsylvania. Like many black people living in America, she grew up in significant financial difficulty. [1][2][3][4][6][7]


Screenshot 2019-03-13 at 9.43.11 pm
Dr. Price (right) pictured with her mother (left) and her Corgi Clara. Caption reads: With her mother, Mrs. Teresa Price, scientist proudly fondles Clara, her prize-winning Welsh corgi, in the living room of family home. Breeding animals represents one of Dr. Price’s few leisure activities. Her Sundays are often spent in a laboratory. Source: [5].
She attended a predominantly white public school, where she was one of three black students. She recalls there being a black male three years ahead of her and one other black girl three years below her. Despite how poor her family was, her mother strongly encouraged her success in school and promoted the importance of doing well in academic studies. This was significant to Price as the cultural norm was to get a job and support the household as soon as possible – especially in underprivileged BME communities who face systematic racism – but the emotional support from her mother as well as some caring teachers in her school allowed her to thrive. [1][4][6][7]

Following her graduation (from Montrose High School) she was accepted into Cornell University, but she feared she did not have a strong enough academic background to fully take advantage of the education she was to receive. To remedy this, she deferred a year and with her mother she moved to New York. It was there where she took additional classes in advanced English and advanced Maths, as well as French and German. [1][6]

This move proved to be beneficial in more than just the additional education, as because she spent a year living in Ithaca, New York it gave Price’s family a formal New York residency, which combined with her excellent high school grades meant that when she was ready to study at Cornell after her tuition fees were waived. [1][6]

Initially, she wanted to be a physician, however due to additional costs it would incur she was not able to follow that path. Following this she met and developed a friendship with a microbiologist and after hearing what it involved she decided that she would major in veterinary microbiology, as it became a large interest of hers. By 1953 she has earned a Bachelors of Science in microbiology from the College of Agriculture. [1][2][6]


Following her graduation Price initially thought she’d had enough of education, however her major professor and mentor, Dr. Dorsey Bruner, successfully encouraged her to continue into graduate studies, however it was at this point that money once again became a problem. [1][2][5][6]

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Dr. Price with her colleagues at the Duck Research Lab. Caption reads: Cornell University’s Duck Research Laboratory is the only duck disease lab in the world. From left to right, Dr. Wm. D. Urban, Director; Dr. Wm. F. Dean; Dr. Jessie Price; and Dr. Louis Leibovitz. Source: [1][9]
To supplement her income she worked as a lab technician for three years (from 1953 -1956) at the Poultry Disease Research Farm of the New York State Veterinary College at Cornell University. Eventually with the help of Bruner she was able to obtain research assistantships for her graduate studies from 1956 – 59. Via this funding she was able to obtain her Masters in bacteriology, pathology and parasitology in 1958 with her Masters dissertation entitled: “Morphological and Cultural Studies of Pleuropneumonia-like Organisms and Their Variants Isolated from Chickens” completed under Bruners’ supervision. Then just a year later she earned her PhD with her research and thesis being “Studies on Pasteurella anatipestifer Infection in White Pekin Ducklings” which eventually got published in the Journal of Avian Diseases. [1][2][5][6]

Cornell Duck Research Laboratory

From 1959 to 1977 (18 years) Price worked as a research specialist at the Cornell University Duck Research Laboratory in Eastport, Long Island. Her research focused on the identification and control of bacterial diseases in commercial white Pekin ducklings. At the time between 10% – 30% of the duckling population was lost in the first 8 weeks of their lives due to disease, which was an extreme amount of animals to lose regularly. It amounted to approximately $250,000 worth of poultry. (Note: In 1964 $250,000 USD is equivalent to approximately $2,032,629.45 USD at time of writing, which is approximately £1,550,012.08 GBP). [1][2][4][5][6]

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Dr. Price working at the research lab. Caption reads: Regular check-ups are given ducks as part of project. In addition to specific disease under attack, Dr. Price also hopes to find cure for other, less serious ailments that affect ducks. Normally, ducks are robust as compared to other poultry. Source: [5]
Luckily, due to her excellent work and her expertise, she was extremely successful in this position. She was able to identify the bug Pasteurella Anatipestifer, which was one of the main causes of a fatal respiratory disease in the ducklings, and along with with her two assistants she was able to create a vaccine for the illness. [1][2][4][5][6]

Additionally through extensive research and study over several flocks of 3000 – 4000 ducklings, she found that they were also commonly dying of Pasteurella Multocida, Escherichia Coli and Duck Hepatitis. This intensive work was completed via intermingling equal numbers of vaccinated and unvaccinated ducklings and conducting daily autopsies of any duck corpses. Additionally cultures were consistently collected throughout the 8 week growth period. [6]

Screenshot 2019-03-13 at 10.14.06 pm
Extensive documentation on Dr. Price completing autopsies on the ducks at the research lab. Captions read: Deft as a surgeon, Dr. Price, jokingly called the “duck doctor,” performs autopsies on victims of disease. Because of huge amount of Money at stake, Project is an urgent one. Long Island farms produce approximately 80 per cent of the nation’s ducks. Source: [5]
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Caption reads: Careful lab procedure is adhered to by scientist. Sterilising special instrument with Bunsen burner (1.), she takes sample fluid from cranium of dead duck. In U.S., duck raising is more than a business. Many farms replenish forests with wild ducks. Source: [5]
Screenshot 2019-03-13 at 10.14.27 pm
Caption reads: Freshly obtained fluid is placed in glass container, sealed and stored on shelf. Under ideal conditions, ducks are relatively easy to raise. The White Peking, main product of the Long Island region, is one of 11 breeds common to the United States. Source [5].
This was no small feat. In addition to effectively saving the local environment from a disease that could potentially wipe out a major amount of the avian species and saving the local meat industry millions of pounds, she was also inundated with work as she taught a course in Earth Science at Southampton College, Long Island State University as well as the fact that the distance between the lab to the experimental farm was four miles. [5][6]

By 1966 she was awarded the National Science Foundation travel grant via the recommendation of the American Society for Microbiology to travel to Moscow and formally present her research findings. [1][5][6]

Following this success, she continued her tenure at the Duck Research Laboratory, with her vaccines being used commercially by Pekin duck farmers throughout the midwest of the United States and in some parts of Canada. Additionally further vaccines she made for Salmonella Typhimurium and her previous vaccines were used by commercial pigeon and turkey farmers. [1][5][6]

Screenshot 2019-03-13 at 10.26.14 pm
Dr. Price examining the behaviour of 4 week old ducks. Caption reads: Behaviour of four-week-old ducks is carefully recorded by scientist, who notes symptoms of any disease peculiar to age group. Ducks normally mature in 12 weeks. They are then slaughtered on farm, dressed, packs in ice and shipped to market in barrels. Elsewhere, eggs also are marketed, but in U.S. the main demand is for fowl’s tasty meat.

Eventually she would pick up additional work, becoming a lecturer in 1969 at the Mitchell College Branch of Long Island University teaching microbiology. By 1976 she had risen from adjunct lecturer to adjunct assistant professor at Long Island University and at the University in Southampton, New York – where again she taught Earth Sciences – she was promoted from adjunct associate to adjunct professor. Through all this it is stated that she never did get to a point where she had “had enough of education” and always strived to better herself by undertaking training in the technical advances in microbiology as and when they were developed. [5]

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Dr. Prices inspecting the broth used to make the experimental cultures needed to create the vaccines. Caption reads: Inspecting jugs of duck broth, used to produce experimental cultures, Dr. Price jots down notations in notebook. A modest dresser, she lives with mother in an unassuming home in nearby Quoque. Her duties leave her little time for extended leisure.

National Wildlife Health Centre

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Dr. Price photoed by James Runningen. Source: [6]

In 1977 she left the Duck Disease Research Laboratory after 18 years working there to take a position as a research microbiologist at the National Wildlife Health Centre of the National Biological Service in Madison, Wisconsin. Here she continued her excellent standard of research. A list of her research interests can be found below and papers regarding this research are link to at the end of the references section:

  • Researching ways to enhance the survival rate of captive reared Aleutian Canada geese when they were released into the wild.
  • Developing a Pasteurella Multocida Serotype-1 vaccine to prevent avian cholera.
  • Testing her vaccines for effectiveness in other types of birds including:
    • Mallards
    • Pekin Ducks
    • Redhead Ducks
    • Snow Geese
    • Sandhill Cranes
  • Working in an extensive international study she discovered that snow geese were carriers of Avian Cholera and it is through them that it is primarily spread.
  • Tested for Pasteurella multocida in pond water and determined how calcium and magnesium ions in enhanced its survival, which in turn explained why some wetlands had a higher frequency of avian cholera that others.
  • Conducted studies on Mycobacterium avium in Sandhill cranes and snow geese to explain why avian tuberculosis is so common in whooping cranes.
    • Tests could not be done on whooping cranes directly as they are endangered.
  • Finally she studied Hawaiian brown tree snakes, as a main part of their diet is forest birds, many of which were infected with avian diseases.
    • For this study she developed two new protocols for microbial cultures to isolate microorganisms.
    • Among these new protocols she isolated the previously undiscovered Listeria gravi/murrayi and Bordetella multocida and effective recombinant live vaccines for them.

Other positions of responsibility, outreach for ethnic minorities in STEM and personal hobbies

Throughout her years as a research scientist and lecturer she held many other formal position of responsibility. [1][5]

First she was a very active member of American Society for Microbiology, serving as chair of the Predoctoral Minority Fellowship Ad Hoc Review Committee and its Summer Research Fellowship and Travel Award Programme from 1982. She was also a member of the Committee on the Status of Minority Microbiologists from 1980 and participated on the Committee on the status of Women Microbiologists from 1979 onwards, becoming the chair in 1978. Finally she was active in the Sigma Delta Epsilon Graduate Women in Science, where was on the board of directors from 1976-1980, serving as national president from ‘74 – ‘75. [1][5][12]

Outside of her outreach work and STEM career as expected Dr. Prices was an avid animal lover. She had a prize winning Corgi and enjoyed photography, music and travel.

Screenshot 2019-03-13 at 9.43.11 pm
Dr. Price (right) pictured with her mother (left) and her Corgi Clara. Caption reads: With her mother, Mrs. Teresa Price, scientist proudly fondles Clara, her prize-winning Welsh corgi, in the living room of family home. Breeding animals represents one of Dr. Price’s few leisure activities. Her Sundays are often spent in a laboratory. Source: [5].



On November 12th 2015 Dr. Price sadly passed after an extended battle with with Lewy Body Disease/Alzheimer’s. In accordance with her wishes she was laid to rest in the family plot in Quogue Cemetery on Long Island in early December of the same year. [7][12]

It is also stated that in lieu of flowers she wished for donations to be made to any of the following charities, in her name:


References are categorised by the following types:

🗒️= Written

🎧= Audio

💻= Video

[1]🗒️ – Wikipedia [Profile] – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jessie_Isabelle_Price

[2]🗒️ – Blackpast.org [Profile] – https://blackpast.org/aah/price-jessie-isabelle-1930-2015

[3]🗒️ – ScienceStories.io [Profile] – http://www.sciencestories.io/Q28755563#2

[4]🗒️ – 27East.com [Obituary] – http://www.27east.com/news/article.cfm/Quogue/131382/Jessie-Isabelle-Price-Dies-On-November-12

[5]🗒️ – Ebony Magazine, September 1964, Page 76, [Article] – https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=JaT6tBKGK3sC&lpg=PA1&pg=PA76#v=onepage&q&f=false

[6]🗒️ – Black Women Scientists in the United States by Wini Warren – pages 237 – 243

[6.1] – archive.org [Free to borrow with an account] – https://archive.org/details/blackwomenscient00warr/page/237

[6.2] – amazon.co.uk [Buy here] – https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=9780253336033&i=stripbooks&linkCode=qs

[7]🗒️ – Legacy.com [Obituary] – https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/theithacajournal/obituary.aspx?n=jessie-isabelle-price&pid=176676355

[8]🗒️ – Cornell University, Alumni News July 1964 [DOWNLOAD HERE] – https://www.cornell.edu/search/?q=%22jessie+isabelle+price%22#

[9]🗒️ – Cornell University, Duck Research Laboratory – https://ahdc.vet.cornell.edu/sects/duck/about.cfm

[10] – Cornell University 1970 Christmas letter, page 23 [DOWNLOAD HERE] – https://www.google.com/url?q=https://ecommons.cornell.edu/bitstream/handle/1813/45085/ChristmasLetter_1970_compressed.pdf%3Fsequence%3D1%26isAllowed%3Dy&sa=U&ved=0ahUKEwjQk_z5oprgAhXNAWMBHWu6BNcQFggEMAA&client=internal-uds-cse&cx=012404574275687773960:wrsoh5r0yt4&usg=AOvVaw2lMiVhkyEUeg4LGPf5b6Lu

[11]🗒️ – Cornell University, NEW YORK STATE VETERINARY, COLLEGE AT CORNELL, UNIVERSITY 1959-1960, pages 6 + 46 [DOWNLOAD HERE]- https://www.cornell.edu/search/?q=%22jessie+price%22#

[12]🗒️ – Cress Funeral Service [Obituary] – https://www.cressfuneralservice.com/obituary/142929/Jessie-Price/

Some papers written by Dr. Price can be found here:

Eastern Encephalitis in White Pekin Ducklings on Long Islandhttps://www.jstor.org/stable/1587600?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents


Salmonella Infections in White Pekin duck. A Short Summary of the Years 1950-60https://www.jstor.org/stable/1587853?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Chemical Ions Affect Survival of Avian Cholera Organisms in Pondwaterhttps://www.jstor.org/stable/3808823?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Immunising Canada Geese against Avian Cholerahttps://www.jstor.org/stable/3782679?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Ineffectiveness of 3,4-diaminopyridine as a therapy for type C botulismhttps://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0041010187901668

Authors Note: Dr. Price was an excellent scientist, and it is clear through her work that when women of colour are given access, funding and opportunities in STEM they can achieve great things. She battled against systematic racism and misogyny as well as the poverty associated with coming from a single parent home – especially when that single parent is a black woman in America – to gain a PhD. Through her work she not only saved millions of pounds worth of product but was able to help entire flocks of birds from many different ecosystems throughout the world. She worked just as well, if not better, than many of her white peers and even rose to become a professor and lead teams of scientists. She is a brilliant example of how just letting the people who are actually passionate about a field can lead to excellent science.

For more information on scientists of colour please visit our resources page or read through the rest of our blog. We are constantly updating both.

Written by Karel Green. For more information see the about page or follow her on Twitter @thisismeonline.


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