In 1924, Hannah enrolled in the School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, the only school in the University that accepted women. Even within the School of Education, the University did not permit men and women to take classes together. Thus Hannah, and four other women, had a separate, women's only, laboratory for their classes. During her years at the University of Pennsylvania, Hannah discovered her passion--algae. For the rest of her career, she passionately studied algae from many regions of the world. In 1928 Hannah received her Bachelor of Science degree and enrolled in the University's masters program. Hannah as a child

Completing her masters in 1931, Hannah again stayed on at the University of Pennsylvania to study for her doctorate. Since Hannah's arrival at the University, the school had become more accepting of women, giving her the opportunity to take part in a wider range of classes and academic experiences. Hannah received her Ph.D. for her thesis on the Freshwater algae of Woods Hole, Massachusetts, in 1935. For her work, Hannah was rewarded with the Sigma Xi award and accepted into Phi Beta Kappa.

While working in Woods Hole at the Marine Biological Laboratory during the summer of 1935, Hannah heard of a job opening at the Dartmouth Medical school. Mr. Wm. Ballard hired Hannah, beginning a friendship that would last for many years.

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