The Magic Touch

Anita Hendrickson, Ph.D. ’64


Mentor, innovator, ceiling-breaker: that was the late Anita Hendrickson, Ph.D. ’64. When she graduated from high school in 1953, her father wouldn’t pay for college; instead, Hendrickson got a job and financed her own education. She graduated from Pacific Lutheran University, earned a doctorate in anatomy from the University of Washington and launched a groundbreaking career in vision science.

“Everyone respected her. She had integrity, and the quality of her work was outstanding,” says Robert Kalina, M.D., former ophthalmology chair and UW emeritus professor.

Hendrickson was a productive researcher, and her work was detailed in more than 150 publications. By the end of her 40-year career, she had documented the development of the fovea — a part of the retina responsible for high-acuity vision in humans and other primates — from birth through adulthood. This research is foundational to understanding retinal diseases like age-related macular degeneration. Hendrickson also pioneered a technique for studying the connections between the brain and the retina.

As for breaking ceilings, Hendrickson was the first female professor in the UW Department of Ophthalmology, and she went on to become the chair of the Department of Biological Structure. In fact, she was the first woman to serve as the chair of a basic science department at the University of Washington.

Known for her scholarship and leadership, Hendrickson was also known for something more. “Mentoring and teaching were very important parts of her work,” says Kalina. “She had the magic touch — bringing out the best in any trainee.”

One of those protégées was Christine Curcio, Ph.D., Fel., an ophthalmology professor at the University of Alabama.

“I’ve spent my career researching age-related eye diseases, and it’s because of the six wonderful years I spent in Anita’s lab,” says Curcio. One of the most important qualities she learned from Hendrickson? “Sheer doggedness.”

To learn more, please see Dr. Hendrickson’s obituary online.