Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Original Sminthia

It started in a barn.

Forced to retire from her teaching job because of pernicious anemia, Abbie Lathrop made a career switch in 1900, at the age of 32. She became a purveyor of “fancy mice.”

The Victorian fad of Fancy Mice was in full swing. The mice were not particularly fancy, but they were fancied. In other words, the Victorians fancied their mice. They bred them for their beautiful or unusual appearance or behavior. (Remember The Spinning Mice?) They entered them in competitions, like Prize Poodles at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show.

Abbie thought she would cash in on the craze, so she began breeding mice in her Granby, Massachusetts barn. Among her “Creams,” “Tans,” and “Silver Fawns,” she noticed something unusual. Some of her mice had cancer.

She struck up a collaboration with Dr. Leo Loeb, with whom she authored ten scholarly papers. Here’s a quote from one of them:

In 1907 we published some observations made on the mouse farm of Miss Lathrop, in Granby, Mass., which rendered it probable that the frequency of tumors in mice at certain places was in all probability due, not to infection, but to hereditary transmission in certain families.

The rest, as they say, is histology…

Read the paper here. All 28 pages of it.