March 27, 1997
University Gazette


Full contents
Police Log
Gazette Home
Gazette Archives
News Office


  Mary Fieser, Researcher, Writer in Organic Chemistry, Dies at Age 87

Mary Fieser, an internationally known researcher and writer in organic chemistry and a fixture in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology for more than 60 years, died Saturday at her Belmont home. She was 87.

With her husband, Louis F. Fieser, Mary Fieser coauthored many influential textbooks, including Basic Organic Chemistry, Steroids, and Style Guide for Chemists. They also produced the landmark 16-volume reference series, Reagents for Organic Synthesis.

Mary Fieser continued the series after the 1977 death of Louis, who at his retirement, was the Sheldon Emery Professor of Organic Chemistry Emeritus.

Officially, Mary Fieser was a research assistant to her husband, but that title obscured the depth of her commitment to their laboratory work and her own contribution to the field.

"She was one of the outstanding women chemists in the world," said Elias J. Corey, the Sheldon Emery Professor of Organic Chemistry and the 1990 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry. "She was a major figure in our department."

Together, the Fiesers inspired countless undergraduates to pursue careers in science, and Mary enlisted the help of students in editing the Reagents series. "She was like a mother for generations of graduate and undergraduate students," recalled Corey.

Last year, Harvard dedicated the renovated organic chemistry teaching laboratory in the Science Center to the couple.

The Fiesers met at Bryn Mawr College, where Louis was an instructor and where Mary earned a bachelor's degree in 1930. She received a master's degree in organic chemistry from Radcliffe College but did not pursue a Ph.D. from Harvard, where women doctoral students in chemistry were rare in the 1930s. Instead, she joined her husband's research team.

The Fiesers' work focused on the chemistry of quinones and of natural products, especially steroids. Louis Fieser was best known for research that led to the synthesis of the hormone cortisone and of vitamin K-1.

There are no immediate survivors. A memorial service, to be held at Harvard, has not yet been scheduled.


Copyright 1998 President and Fellows of Harvard College