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Mildred Cohn, 96; acclaimed scientist overcame bias

Mildred Cohn worked for many years as a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. She was awarded the National Medal of Science.
Mildred Cohn worked for many years as a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. She was awarded the National Medal of Science. (University Of Pennsylvania Archives)
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Dr. Cohn and Primakoff both went to the University of Pennsylvania in 1960. She retired in 1982 but maintained an office at the university until her death.

In Wasserman's book about female scientists, Dr. Cohn said there were certain advantages to working all those years as a research assistant, rather than as full-fledged faculty member.

"I had no teaching or administrative duty," she said. "I was able to stay home if a child were seriously ill and could spend two months vacationing with my family every summer."

Dr. Cohn was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1971 and received the country's highest scientific honor, the National Medal of Science, in 1982. She was the first female president of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and was the first woman on the editorial board of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, which she edited for 10 years.

"My greatest piece of luck," she told Wasserman, "was marrying Henry Primakoff, an excellent scientist who treated me as an intellectual equal and always assumed that I should pursue a scientific career and behaved accordingly."

Her husband, whom she married in 1938, died in 1983. Survivors include three children, Nina Primakoff Rossomando of Westerly, R.I., Paul Primakoff of Davis, Calif., and Laura Primakoff of Rockville; six grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

Dr. Cohn was named to the National Women's Hall of Fame one day before she died.


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