Washington University celebrates Michael and Irene Karl

Irene E. Karl, Ph.D. Research Professor of Medicine A pioneer in the cause and treatment of sepsis and a trailblazer among women in science August 16, 1915 – July 7, 2006

Michael M. Karl, M.D. Professor of Clinical Medicine Widely recognized as one of the country’s outstanding general internists January 30, 1915 – November 22, 2006

Recollections and Reflections

Irene and Michael Karl had a profound interest in medical science. They shared that passion with colleagues, students and trainees through their professionalism, dedication and generosity of spirit.

Irene and Michael Karl
Irene and Michael Karl

Both Irene and Mike were born in 1915 in Milwaukee. They were high school sweethearts who met while Mike was working at a shoe store. He sold her a pair of navy blue pumps and asked her out.

In 1937, Irene graduated summa cum laude with a degree in chemistry from the University of Wisconsin, where she was the only woman in a class of 400. On graduation day, her chemistry professor told her that women didn’t make good scientists and that she should “go get married.” Irene relayed her professor’s comments to Mike that night on the phone. “Don’t pay any attention to what they say,” Mike told her. “But we’re not going to get married yet, because you’ll never forgive me if you don’t get your Ph.D.”

In three years, Irene became the first woman to earn a doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin. Mike graduated summa cum laude in medicine from the University of Louisville. They married in 1941.

Irene began working as a biochemist at Jewish Hospital. She left work to raise two daughters and then returned to the School of Medicine in 1959 as a research assistant. In 1966, Irene became a research instructor for the Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism Division, and in 1981 became a research professor of medicine. She also served on the Committee on Admissions for the School of Medicine. In 2002, Irene was the first female scientist to receive the Jewish Federation of St. Louis Woman of Valor Award.

Irene dedicated more than 50 years to studying diabetes and sepsis, or blood poisoning. She published more than 150 articles and earned accolades from her colleagues. She is remembered as a rigorous yet sensitive mentor to her fellows and as an advocate for women in science. She was gracious to people at all levels in the University.

Michael Karl was widely recognized locally and nationally as one of the country’s outstanding general internists. He and I. Jerome Flance, M.D., founded the Maryland Medical Group, where Mike practiced for almost 50 years. He introduced Missouri’s first needle biopsy of the liver in 1946. Mike was known as a “physician’s physician” who cared for doctors and their loved ones.

Mike was one of few general internists to become a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences. He was a Master of the American College of Physicians (ACP), Governor of the ACP for the State of Missouri and received the ACP Laureate Award in 1988.

President Jimmy Carter appointed Mike to the national advisory committee of the White House Conference on the Family from 1978-80, where he was among the first to call for family leave protections for working parents. He advocated

national health insurance, the desegregation of hospitals and helped organize health services for the poor in St. Louis.

Mike was known as an outstanding teacher with the highest ethical standards. He won numerous teaching awards over the years.

In recognition of Michael’s well-known love of reading, a Michael M. Karl Book Award is given annually at the American College of Physicians and at the medical school commencement. The Flance-Karl Award is presented by the American Surgical Association to a surgeon in the United States who has made a seminal contribution in basic laboratory research.

A philanthropist active in the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, a longtime supporter of the arts and a promoter of tolerance, Mike was given the National Recognition Award of the Year by the National Conference of Christians and Jews in 1985.

Both Karls received the Albert Einstein Award from Technion University, the Barnes Hospital Distinguished Service Award and the Second Century Award from the School of Medicine. The Karls were the first married couple at Washington University to be honored with a named professorship. The Michael and Irene Karl Lectureship also honors them.

Mike and Irene loved entertaining and spending time with their family: daughters Bonnie Karl Staffier and Terry Karl, grandchildren and godchildren.

Washington University was enriched by the Karls’ presence. Their legacy of scientific discovery, excellent patient care and compassionate training will live on in those they touched.

The Family of Irene and Michael Karl

Bonnie and John Staffier

Samantha, Alex and Mackenzie

Terry Karl and Philippe SchmitterMonika and Marc Schmitter and Regina Segura