GeekGirlCon Blog

Notable Scientists: Historical Chemists Part II

Written by Adrienne Roehrich, Manager of Editorial Services

In December of 2011, I began this series as a series of tweets about notable women in science for @DoubleXSci. Nearly 100 women were presented over that twitter. The series used awards, especially awards focused on women, for the source of most of the presented scientists. However, this leaves a bias towards white women. These posts are a direct cross-post from Double X Science. In more recent posts, I am working towards highlighting all notable women in science.

Leonora Neuffer Bilger was the 1953 Garvan Medal winner and a big influence at the University of Hawaii. (1893-1975) Dr. Bilger received her PhD in chemistry from the University of Cincinnati in 1916. She graduated and went straight into a position as head of the chemistry department at Sweet Briar College. A brief stint at the University of Cincinnati gave her skills that she later used in her position as Chair of the Department of Chemistry at the University of Hawaii to design a new chemistry laboratory facility. Her post as University of Hawaii Department Head began in 1943 and lasted 11 years. Her research was on asymmetric nitrogen compounds, for which she won the Garvan Medal.

Nutritional Chemist Mary Letitia Caldwell was a role model and mentor over 6 decades. (1890-1972) Born in Bogota, Columbia of missionaries, she arrived in the U.S. to attend high school. Dr. Caldwell was supported by her family in her pursuit of education and science. Due to gender restrictions, Caldwell attended a women’s college and stayed on there for teaching initially. This gave her the start on what she is known for: being a role model and mentor for other women for six decades. She received her A.B. in 1913 from Western College for Women, her master’s degree in 1919 from Columbia, and her PhD in 1921 from Columbia, where she stayed on to teach. She entered the relatively new (at the time) field of nutritional chemistry, laying the groundwork for those after her. While Caldwell was well-known for the quality of research and diligence in her work, she also maintained a work-life balance, as an avid hiker, doting aunt, and gardener.

Emma Perry Carr

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Emma Perry Carr was a pioneer in UV spectroscopy and a beloved teacher. (1880-1972) Emma Perry Carr first attended Mt. Holyoke College then transferred to and received her B.S. from the University of Chicago in 1905. After a short duration as an instructor at Mt. Holyoke, Dr. Carr returned to the University of Chicago to receive her PhD in 1910. She returned to Mt. Holyoke to become a full professor and head of the department by the age of 33, a post she held for 33 years. Dr. Carr was also a devoted aunt, a fashionable dresser, and a talented storyteller. She had a relationship with Mary Sherrill, another professor at Mt. Holyoke, whom she shared a residence with for 26 years. Emma Perry Carr was the first recipient of the Garvan Medal.

Marie Sklodowska Curie

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Physicist & Chemist Marie Sklodowska Curie was the first twice Nobel Prize laureate. (1867-1934) Much has been written about Marie Curie. She is, perhaps, the first historical figure to come to mind when a person says “Notable Woman in Science.” She is the first person to have been a twice Nobel Laureate. Marya Sklodowska was born in Poland, and lived through the loss of her eldest sister and mother by age 11. After graduating first her in class from high school, she attended a secret university because Polish universities could not admit women. She wished to go to Paris to study, so she worked and saved her money to do so. She was the first woman to receive her Licence es Sciences Physiques from the Sorbonne in 1893, graduating first in her class again. She received her Licence es Sciences Mathematiques in 1894 from the same institution. In 1903, she attained her PhD from the University of Parish, the same year she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics. Difficulties continued in her personal life, such as the death of her husband in 1906, her own ill health due to radiation poisoning, and her constant fight for her place in her work. She broke so many barriers by being the first woman in so many circumstances.

Mary Fieser was well-known for her contributions to organic chemistry. (1909-1997) Mary Feiser was encouraged by her parents to excel academically. She attended Bryn Mawr and received her B.S. in chemistry in 1930. She then attended Radcliffe College and worked on her master’s thesis in the lab of Louis F. Feiser at Harvard. She received her A.M. in 1931 and married in 1932. She opted to continue to work in her husband’s lab instead of pursue a PhD because of the funding and Harvard facilities. With her help, 15 papers and 17 books were published by Feiser. However, Harvard did not grant her a salary nor official title for 29 years. Even at 85 years of age, Mary Feiser continued to write and publish organic chemistry books, which were well received.

Dorothy Anna Hahn was a researcher, professor, and mentor for women in chemistry. (1876-1950) Dorothy Hahn received her B.A. in chemistry from Bryn Mawr and went to work at Mt. Holyoke College under the auspices of Emma Perry Carr. Together, the two women were a force producing many women chemists. While Dr. Carr ran the chemistry department, it is said Dr. Hahn ran the organic chemistry department. Dr. Hahn pursued and received her Ph.D. from Yale University in 1916 due to a fellowship from the AAUW (American Association of University Women). Hahn also preceded well-known scientists Gilbert Lewis and Irving Langmuir on a theory of valence electrons. Professor Hahn was a huge influence on organic chemistry, teaching, and women in chemistry.

Allene Rosalind Jeanes was a pioneering researcher with several patents. (1906-1995) Allene Rosaland Jeanes was born and raised in Texas. She received her A.B with highest honors from Baylor University in 1928. She graduated with her M.A. from the University of California – Berkeley in 1929. She taught for a time in a few different colleges, then decided to return to graduate school. She attained her PhD from the University of Illinois in 1938. While she wanted to go into pharmaceutical research, opportunities were limited. She took a position at the National Institute of Health. Her research took her through several government positions and had applications in the food industry. She was honored with many awards, including the Garvan Medal and Federal Women’s Award from the U.S. Civil Service Commission.

Nuclear Chemist Ellen Gleditsch was virtually unknown despite her accomplishments. (1879-1968) The story of Ellen Gleditsch is not well known in her native Norway nor abroad, and signifies how difficult it was for women to be recognized for their work. She received her degree in pharmacology in 1902. She worked with Marie Curie for 5 years, and received her Licencee es Sciences from the Sorbonne in 1912. She went to work at Yale University despite the animosity toward her from the men at the U.S. institutions of Yale and Harvard, and received her D.Sc. from Smith College in 1914. In 1929, Oslo University became embroiled in controversy over the decision to advance Ellen Gleditsch to the position of professional chair, and it took a letter from Marie Curie to help quell the public outrage. During her time in Oslo, she also provided a home for scientists fleeing Nazi Germany. She continued to be an advocate and mentor for women in the sciences until her death at age 88.

Anna Jane Harrison was the first woman president American Chemical Society.  (1912-1998) Born in Missouri, Anna Jane Harrison was raised on a farm and her childhood science education tended to be “go out and find caterpillars.” She learned about Caterpillar tractors from her father for that assignment. Her high school science teachers inspired her interest in science, so she went to the University of Missouri to earn a B.A. in chemistry in 1933, a B.S. in education in 1935, a M.A. in chemistry in 1937, and a PhD in physical chemistry in 1940. She was the first woman to earn a PhD at the institution. After meeting Lucy Picket and Emma Carr at a meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), she went on to work at Mt. Holyoke College, carrying on the traditions established there by Emma Carr and Dorothy Hahn. She also has several more “firsts” including being the first woman to chair the Division of Chemical Education of the ACS and the first woman elected president of the ACS in its previous 102 year history of the organization. She was honored with the honorary degree of D.Sc. from ten institutions. She enjoyed traveling and once stated, “What I really like is to go places one isn’t supposed to go.”

Mentioned Awards

The Garvan Medal is an award from the American Chemical Society to recognize distinguished service to chemistry by women chemists.

Nobel Prize: From the site:

Every year since 1901 the Nobel Prize has been awarded for achievements in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and for peace. The Nobel Prize is an international award administered by the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden. In 1968, Sveriges Riksbank established The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, founder of the Nobel Prize. Each prize consists of a medal, personal diploma, and a cash award.

Federal Women’s Award from the U.S. Civil Service Commission was awarded to a woman for a high level of scientific achievement.

Adrienne_Roehrich
“Rock On!”

Leave a Reply

Join The Discussion #GGC14

Thanks to the GeekGirlCon Super Sponsors

  • SAM
  • EA
  • JONES SODA CO.
  • gay city
  • Microsoft