The questions Carl R. Moore spent much of his life answering make some people uncomfortable. They're about sex. How do hormones control whether an offspring is male or female? What does a vasectomy do to the flow of sex hormones? What conditions are right for maximum human fertility? If those topics make you so uneasy you want to stop reading, that's OK. But you'll miss a fascinating story about a Drury alumnus who changed our understanding of physiology in fundamental ways, who may have saved many from unnecessary operations, who answered key questions about the functions of sex, and who helped lay the scientific groundwork for one of the 20th century's most profound cultural revolutions.
Carl Moore seems to be in some ways typical of a type of student who still comes to Drury, the young man or woman from humble roots who discovers a new life of the mind in the nourishing environment of Drury's campus. Moore was born in 1892 near Brookline, Mo., to parents who carved a farm from the Ozarks woods. When he was nine the family moved to Springfield, where Moore finished elementary, middle and high school and decided to enter Drury. He says his family discussed whether he should be "a preacher or a doctor." He registered as a pre-medical student, and soon found a scientific mentor. He said:
In college, biology in addition to being a rather natural interest from earlier farm experiences, became a favorite subject largely because of the commanding personality of the teacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon; he was a self-made, jolly, fat man, of large physical stature who inspired youngsters by providing opportunity for work outside the regular curriculum. Being considerable of a critic, his encouragement and commendations were vitalizing. Preparation of slides, serial sectioning of embryos, and many additional activities in the laboratory occupied many all night sessions as well as those on Saturdays and Sundays.*
Conditions in the biology labs of Pearsons Hall inspired Moore's creativity. Biographer and scientific collaborator Dorothy Price shares the story of a time when the lab was too warm for Moore to get clean, thin slices from tissue specimens embedded in paraffin wax. He opened the windows, donned an overcoat and a muffler, and continued his work.
At Drury, Moore was an active student and member of the basketball team. He also was a photographer; the album of photos he took while at Drury is a valuable record of campus life at the time, and is featured in this magazine.
Moore graduated from Drury in 1913, still interested in being a physician. But his work in the lab also sparked an interest in how animals develop from the single cell of a fertilized egg, and that summer he enrolled for courses at the University of Chicago. The university was home to Frank R. Lillie, a founder of the field of embryology. Though Lillie was away for the summer, Moore still found much to learn, and seemed to return to the Ozarks set on a life in the sciences. With no money for medical or graduate school, Moore opted to stay at Drury as an assistant in the biology department; his pay was $100 for the year.
|Carl R. Moore, professor and chairman of the department of zoology, University of Chicago, 1950|
As he worked with Spurgeon, Moore applied for fellowships. He received a Master of Science from Drury in 1914, and accepted an offer to study in the zoology department at the University of Chicago. With perfect timing, he started working with Lillie and began exploring the effects of hormones on development at a time when the field was beginning to bloom. Moore earned his Ph.D. in 1916 and joined the faculty of the zoology department. In 1920 he married Edith Abernathy, a student who had caught his eye during a laboratory session he was teaching. Their honeymoon was a float trip along an Ozarks river. Moore worked at the University of Chicago until he died in 1955.
Carl Moore's scientific work centered on his curiosity about how the hormones that circulate throughout the body in our bloodstream can nonetheless have specific effects on particular areas.
Lillie started the ball rolling with a suggestion that Moore try to replicate freemartinism in the lab. Freemartins are "intersex" cattle, neither male nor female, created when twins of each gender fuse in the uterus and share blood circulation. Lillie and others believed that the commingling of male and female hormones caused the sterility and physiological abnormalities seen in the female freemartin. This was in line with current theories of development based on competition between the hormones produced by ovaries and testes. Moore could not cause freemartinism artificially, and in the process developed his own theories for how sex glands interact during fetal development.
Moore's research then led in several fruitful directions. He was part of the interdepartmental team at the University of Chicago that isolated testosterone in the 1920s.
His work with experimental grafts and transplants of testes discredited the Steinach operation, a type of vasectomy (named for the surgeon who invented it) that had a small but devoted following. Sigmund Freud had the operation. So did William Butler Yeats, and scholars attribute the vigor of his late work to the vitality Yeats thought the surgery gave him. Hundreds of men in the U.S. had the operation, which was offered to as a means to boost male sex hormones and rejuvenate senile or weakening men. Carl Moore demonstrated that the operation probably did not have the physiological effects Steinach had thought.
Along the way, Moore published a finding especially appealing to middle-school boys: that testes function best when kept slightly cooler than body temperature, which is why males have a scrotums. This finding was cited when Moore received an award in 1950 from the American Urological Association, which called his experiments "elegant, imaginative and conclusive."
|In this self-portrait c. 1909-1913 Moore sits at a desk in Pearsons Hall. The whalebone chair visible behind the desk is still in the collection of the Shepard Museum at Drury.|
In the early 1930s, Moore returned to questions of how sex hormones interact in development. With collaborator Dorothy Price, he discovered a new player in the sex hormone dance: the pituitary gland. The interaction among sex glands and the pituitary created a negative feedback loop which explained much of the conflicting data gathered in the previous decades. The Moore-Price concept, also called the push-pull theory, is a central tenet of biology. Without realizing it, Moore and Price also had set the stage for the scientists who would develop female oral contraceptives, "The Pill," whose impact on life in America and worldwide would fill thousands of pages.
Through it all, Moore remained an Ozarker: stubborn, skeptical, honest and thrifty.
He would show visitors his basement lab, where the stools were mismatched and equipment was old but functional, and take pleasure at showing how such fine research came from such a relatively primitive setting. "He did not ask for more," said Dorothy Price. "Money was not wasted on new and showy gadgets - good research did not depend upon such things."
Drury recognized Moore's accomplishments; in 1948 he received an honorary degree from his alma mater. By then he was also very ill. As his health deteriorated, he continued as chairman of the zoology department, doggedly unwilling to give up more than a few committee assignments. "I would find him in his office on Sunday mornings when he had hardly strength enough to lift his briefcase," Price wrote. She continued:
But Carl Moore would have known no other way. From his Ozark country boyhood through his scientific career he had always solved problems and overcome obstacles as best he could. He bore the grim reality of relentless illness and impending death by negation in the face of hopelessness.
When he died in October, 1955, the scientific community recognized and mourned the loss. Drury College President James Findlay traveled to the University of Chicago for a memorial service.
The threads that run through Moore's life began with his childhood in southwestern Missouri and his years at Drury. The spirit of observation evident in Moore's photos of Drury carried forward into the rest of his life in a man with intense curiosity for the workings of Nature - and the persistence to keep looking until his questions were answered.
* Quoted by Dorothy Price in Biographical Memoirs 74, 387 (1974). The quote is an excerpt from notes Moore prepared for the National Academy of Sciences in 1948.