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Mary S. Shorb papers

 Collection 0268-UA

A professor emeritus at the University of Maryland, Mary S. Shorb (1907-1990) was known for her work in designing assays to allow for the commercial production of vitamin B12. Shorb served as a research professor in the Poultry Husbandry Department from 1949 to 1972. Her papers consist of correspondence; reports and applications for grants from the National Institutes of Health; lab and research notes; and speeches, articles, and papers written by Shorb. Important topics include vitamin B12, L. lactis, L. bifidus, Trichomonas, chickens, animal nutrition, animal growth, Thalidomide, and pernicious anemia.


  • 1910-1971
  • Majority of material found within 1945-1965

Use and Access to Collection

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies or digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with Special Collections and University Archives duplication policy.

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

Archival materials may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws or other regulations. While we make a good faith effort to identify and remove such materials, some may be missed during our processing. If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the reading room staff.


16.75 Linear Feet

Scope and Content of Collection

The Mary S. Shorb papers cover the period from 1910 to 1971; the bulk of the collection dates from 1945 to 1965. The Shorb papers include correspondence, scientific articles, newspaper clippings, laboratory notes, charts, and photographs. Important subjects include Dr. Shorb's research on B12, L. lactis, L. bifidus, Trichomonas, chickens, animal nutrition, animal growth, Thalidomide, and pernicious anemia. Correspondents in the collection include George Briggs, T. J. Jukes, Karl Folkers, T. R. Wood, H. B. Woodruff, E. E. Howe, David Heldin, H. W. Schoelein, and many of Dr. Shorb's graduate assistants.


Mary S. Shorb was born on January 11, 1907, in Wahpeton, North Dakota, and was raised in Caldwell, Idaho. She received her B.S. from the College of Idaho in 1928. Before joining the faculty at the University of Maryland in College Park, Dr. Shorb was associated with the Johns Hopkins University (1929-1932) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) (1942-1946). While at Hopkins, she was a technical research assistant on studies of the common cold (1929-1932) and an immunology technical assistant in the School of Hygiene and Public Health (1931-1932). Shorb received her doctorate in immunology from Hopkins in 1933. From 1942 to 1944, she was a bacteriologist for the Bureau of Human Nutrition of USDA, followed by a two-year stint at USDA's Bureau of Dairy Industries. During the years 1947 to 1949, she was the Merck Post-Doctorate Fellow in Poultry Husbandry Nutrition at Maryland.

Shorb was a research professor at the University of Maryland from 1949 to 1972. In addition, during her time at the university, she worked part-time for the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, and lectured on nutrition and bacteriology at Oxford University and the University of Paris. Her community activities included membership in the first High Point High School PTA, the Beltsville Garden Club, and the Prince George's County Mental Health Society. In 1972, she was named research professor emeritus in the Poultry Husbandry Department at the University of Maryland.

Mary Shorb's reputation rests on her studies of vitamin B12. She and her colleagues discovered that the vitamin was more effective in treating pernicious anemia than the liver extract in use since 1926; prior to 1926, patients afflicted with the disease usually died. Working with a team of researchers from the Merck Laboratories to isolate the basic factor in the liver extract which helped anemia victims, she determined that the vitamin, named B12, was the beneficial element in the extract. This discovery brought relief to patients who were previously forced to take frequent, costly injections of the liver extract. Her discovery elicited letters of thanks from people all over the world who either suffered from pernicious anemia or had a family member with the disease.

A member of the American Society of Microbiologists, the Society of Microbiology, and the Protozoology Society, as well as a fellow of the New York Academy of Science, Shorb received many awards. These included the Hematology Research Foundation Award in 1948; the Mead Johnson Award in 1949; and Hood College's Outstanding Woman of Maryland award in 1951. In 1972, Merck, Sharp & Dohme Research Laboratories commemorated its twenty-three-year research relationship with her by establishing an endowed lectureship in her name at the University of Maryland in College Park. During the 1980s, she was honored by the American Association of University Women. Shorb's portrait was included in a 1992 calendar produced by Westinghouse Electronic Systems.

Dr. Shorb was married to D. A. Shorb and was the mother of three children. She died in 1990.


The collection is organized into eight series:

Series 1
Administrative and Professional Materials
Series 2
Scholarly Papers
Series 3
Laboratory Research
Series 4
Personal Materials
Series 5
Laboratory Notebooks
Series 6
Scientific Reports
Series 7
Series 8

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

Mary S. Shorb donated her papers to the University of Maryland Libraries in 1972.

Processing Information

All materials have been placed in acid-free folders within acid-free boxes. Staples and paper clips were removed and replaced with plastic clips. Photographs have been transferred to the photograph collection. Oversized materials have been transferred to oversize storage. Chicken feathers found in the collection were disinfected and encapsulated. In June 2011, Photographs which had been removed to the Biographical Print Files were reintegrated into the collection.

Guide to the Mary S. Shorb papers
Processed by unknown.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742