Skip to content
Heart icon (animated) heart icon (static)
Explore more Johnson & Johnson sites:
A graphic of the flag of Australia alt
A graphic of the flag of Argentina alt
A graphic of the flag of Brazil alt
A graphic of the national flag of Canada alt
A graphic of the flag of Chile alt
A graphic of the national flag of the People's Republic of China alt
A graphic of the national flag of Colombia alt
A graphic of the national flag of Ecuador alt
A graphic of the flag of Germany alt
A graphic of the national flag of India alt
A graphic of the national flag of Japan alt
A graphic of the flag of Mexico alt
A graphic of the flag of Paraguay alt
A graphic of the flag of Peru alt
A graphic of the flag of Russia alt
Switzerland
A graphic of the flag of Switzerland alt
A graphic of the national flag of Uruguay alt
A graphic of the flag of Venezuela alt
Edith Von Kuster (image courtesy of her family); Johnson & Johnson lab (image courtesy of Johnson & Johnson Archives) alt
Courtesy of Von Kuster family (center) and company archives
Our Heritage Ask Margaret

Meet the First Female Scientist Johnson & Johnson Ever Hired

For Women’s Equality Day, our Chief Historian celebrates Edith Von Kuster’s groundbreaking role and how it set the tone for company culture in the century-plus to come.
Today's Top Reads Close
Share expand "Ask Margaret" column illustration of a woman holding a magnifying glass

Q:

What’s your favorite historical example of how Johnson & Johnson led the charge in supporting women’s equality?

A:

Margaret Gurowitz, Margaret Gurowitz Margaret Gurowitz,Chief Historian, Johnson & Johnson Chief Historian: When Johnson & Johnson hired its first female scientist, Edith Von Kuster, in 1908.

At that time, women were advised to get married and have a family. And if they worked outside the home, most found employment as teachers, nurses, domestic workers or manufacturing line workers.

Von Kuster took a different path and went to the University of Minnesota, graduating with a degree in chemistry in 1907.

Share expand Edith Von Kuster listed as part of the Johnson & Johnson scientific department in 1908

Von Kuster listed as part of the Johnson & Johnson scientific department in 1908

Image courtesy of Johnson & Johnson Archives

A year later, she was teaching and doing research at the university when Johnson & Johnson Scientific Director Fred Kilmer reached out to her. (How did he find her? It’s possible he read a research paper of hers, but we just don’t know.) Kilmer offered her a job as one of three staff scientists in the company’s scientific department, where she would be testing raw materials and conducting research and development.

Von Kuster accepted.

And while today we don’t think much about relocating for a career opportunity, in 1908, it was unprecedented for a 23-year-old woman to move halfway across the U.S., from Minnesota to company headquarters in New Jersey, to take a job. She was a real trailblazer.

Quote icon (top)

The hiring of Von Kuster wasn’t the only example of Johnson & Johnson’s commitment to women back then. Eight of Johnson & Johnson’s 36 department supervisors at the time were women.

Quote icon (bottom) Share

It was also an incredibly big deal for a company to hire a female scientist as there were very few opportunities for women in science. In fact, jobs in the industry were so rare at the time that they don’t show up in employment data. Few women even studied science at a college level: The number of women getting science degrees was so small that it's difficult to measure their numbers from that time.

Of course, the hiring of Von Kuster wasn’t the only example of Johnson & Johnson’s commitment to women back then. Eight of Johnson & Johnson’s 36 department supervisors at the time were women. And Kilmer actively advocated for women to pursue careers in pharmacy, which was often the first point of contact in healthcare for many patients.

Johnson & Johnson’s willingness to put women in positions of responsibility in the early 20th century illustrates values that are core to the company’s Credo today: inclusivity, diversity and equal opportunity.

Johnson & Johnson has a virtual museum where you can learn more fun facts about its rich history.
© Albert Vecerka/Esto. All rights reserved.

More from Johnson & Johnson

This site uses cookies as described in our Cookie Policy. Please click the "Accept" button or continue to use our site if you agree to our use of cookies.
Close cookie banner icon
You are now leaving jnj.com. The site you’re being redirected to is a branded pharmaceutical website. Please click below to continue to that site.
Continue