She was born in 1914 in Cobble Hill British Columbia. She graduated from St. Margaret’s School at age fifteen. She then attended Victoria College (which is now UVIC) from 1930-1931. After that, she attended McGill University. When she was there she received both a B.Sc. and M.Sc. in pharmacology. She then did some graduate work at the University of Chicago, where she also earned a Ph.D. When she came to the University of Chicago for graduate work, the professor, Dr. Eugene Geiling, with whom she had been corresponding, thought she was a man because he thought women didn’t go into this field.
In 1937 Geiling was recruited to figure out what was going on with the Elixir of Sulfanilamide. The drug had killed 107 people and Geiling and Kelsey were trying to figure out what in the drug was killing people. They solved it and it forced Congress to pass the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938. This required drugs to be proven safe before they could be released. They still weren’t tested enough and wouldn’t be until the 1960s.