Ann Streissguth, 1932-2023, made strides against fetal alcohol syndrome

Ann Streissguth was a prime example of the impact of higher education. The first in her family to go to college, she went on to earn three college degrees and help make one of the most important public health discoveries of our time.

A beloved professor in the University of Washington Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences for the past four decades, Streissguth made a name for herself in the 1970s after publishing an article (with fellow UW professor David Smith) in the distinguished British medical journal The Lancet describing what became known as fetal alcohol syndrome.

“Dr. Streissguth was relentless in her pursuit of understanding fetal alcohol spectrum disorders,” says Dr. Susan Stoner, current holder of the UW’s Ann Streissguth, Ph.D. Endowed Professorship in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. “She understood not just alcohol exposure, but the larger factors surrounding it, like the fact that women who drink during pregnancy are often affected by poverty, and that can impact their ability to provide the optimal environment a child needs for healthy development.”

Born in Pasadena, California, Streissguth was the first in her family to attend college, partly funded by a Spreckels Sugar scholarship won by her angel food cake-baking skills. She attended Oregon State College, graduating in 1954 with a bachelor’s degree in home economics education, earned an M.S. degree in 1959 from UC Berkeley and a Ph.D. in psychology from the UW in 1964.

Streissguth’s breakthrough research with Smith happened in 1973 at Harborview Hospital, when they examined two babies born to mothers with known alcohol abuse during their pregnancies. Among Streissguth’s lasting efforts are the “Don’t Drink During Pregnancy” initiative and the Parent-Child Assistance Program.

Streissguth died Aug. 2 at the age of 90.