Ruth R. Benerito, 97, a retired Department of Agriculture chemist known for contributing to the development of wrinkle-free cotton, died at her home in Metairie, La., on Oct. 5, 2013.
Born in New Orleans, Benerito earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Newcomb College (formerly a women’s college affiliated with Tulane University) in 1935, before earning a master’s degree in chemistry from Tulane in 1938.
She taught at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College (now Randolph College) in Lynchburg, Va., and at Newcomb and Tulane before earning a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the University of Chicago in 1948.
Shortly thereafter, Benerito joined USDA’s Southern Regional Research Center (SRRC) in New Orleans. She and her team investigated a cross-linking process that treats cotton fibers with reagents that strengthen the hydrogen bonds between cotton’s chainlike cellulose molecules. When treated this way, cotton wrinkles less when subjected to agitation in washing machines. Subsequently, Benerito’s cross-linking research led to the development of flame-retardant clothing and bedding and continues to pave the way for new biomedical applications for cotton.
An expert in cellulose chemistry, Benerito was credited with 55 patents and more than 200 publications.
After retiring from SRRC in 1986, she served as an adjunct professor at the University of New Orleans until the age of 81. Benerito was an emerita member of ACS; she joined in 1943 and maintained her membership until 2006.
Benerito received what is now the Francis P. Garvan-John M. Olin Medal from ACS in 1970, and she and her team were honored by ACS when it named SRRC a chemical landmark in 2004. She also received the Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002 and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2008.
Benerito’s husband, Frank, whom she married in 1950, died in 1970.