Thomas, Helen Meriwether (Lewis)
Thompson, Mary Crutchfield
Turner, Ruth Dixon
Brooke Taussig (b. May 24, 1898, in Cambridge, d. May 20, 1986,in
Kennett Square, Pennsylvania)
Born in Cambridge to Edith (Guild) and Frank W. Taussig, a professor of economics at Harvard University, Helen Taussig graduated from the Cambridge School for Girls in 1917 and went on to study at Radcliffe College for two years. She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, and then returned to her family home in Cambridge to study at Harvard Medical School. She conducted research on the heart, but could not receive a degree since the school did not formally admit women at that time. (Women were not admitted to the Medical School until 1948.) After taking courses in anatomy at Boston University, she moved to Baltimore to attend John Hopkins University School of Medicine, earning her MD degree in 1927. Obtaining a fellowship in cardiology, she combined her interest in the heart with work in pediatrics. She remained at Johns Hopkins for the rest of her career, becoming one of the first women to attain the rank of full professor at the University by 1959.
Taussig is best known as the founder of pediatric cardiology. She suffered from partial deafness and was unable to use a stethoscope, which forced her to rely on other means of physical examination to diagnose congenital heart problems in children and led her to use the new technology of x-ray fluoroscopy. With the heart surgeon Alfred Blalock, she pioneered an operation in 1944 to correct the “blue baby” syndrome, a congenital heart syndrome in which an infant is born with a leaky septum of the heart and an undeveloped pulmonary artery. Her book, Congenital Malfunctions of the Heart (1947), became a classic on the subject. In the early 1960s, she traveled to Germany to examine children born with phocomelia (severely shortened limbs) as a result of their mothers’ use of the anti-nausea drug, thalidomide. Her testimony before the Food and Drug Administration successfully kept this drug out of the United States.
She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964 and became the first woman president of the American Heart Association in 1965. Along with many other honors, she was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1973. She died in Pennsylvania in an automobile accident at the age of eighty-seven.
References: Marilyn Ogilvie and Joy Harvey, Biographical Dictionary of Women Scientists. Routledge, 2000; Phyllis J. Read and Bernard L. Witlieb, The Book of Women’s Firsts, New York: Random House, 1992; www.nlm.nih.gov/changingthefaceofmedicine/physicians/biography_316.html
Return to Top of Page
Taylor (b. June 24, 1888 in Hartford, Connecticut, d. March
12, 1979, in Cambridge, Massachusetts)
Educator, Director of the Shady Hill School 1921-1949
Born on June 24, 1888 in Hartford, Connecticut, Katharine was the daughter of Graham Taylor and Leah (Demarest) Taylor. She attended local Hartford elementary schools and then the Francis W. Parker School in Chicago, while her father was involved with the establishment of the settlement house, Chicago Commons. She went to Vassar College, graduating with an A.B in 1910. She received her Masters degree from the University of Michigan in 1911. After traveling to Europe on an academic scholarship, she returned to her Vassar College as instructor in English from 1913-1916 and then joined the faculty of her former secondary school, the Parker School in Chicago, where she worked from 1916-1921. Unlike her older sister, Lea Demarest Taylor, who followed her father into settlement work, Katharine was dedicated to the field of education.
In 1921 when the philosopher, William Ernest Hocking and a group of other Harvard professors were looking for someone to direct a new coeducational and progressive school in Cambridge for their children, she was appointed as the first director of the Shady Hill School. She held that position for twenty eight years. One of the notable students under her directorship was the poet and writer, May Sarton, who described her experiences in one of her journals. Taylor also developed a teacher's training course that was highly successful, inspiring one of the graduates, Carmelita Hinton, to found Putney School in Vermont in 1934.
Retiring from Shady Hill in 1949, Taylor was made chair of the Education and Child Care Project in Germany under the auspices of the Unitarian Service Committee, a position she held until 1953. She went on to serve as consultant to the New World Foundation from 1955 to 1976 and as consultant to the International Schools Foundation from 1959 to-1960. Taylor sat on the board of Vassar College, Francis W. Parker School, Children to Palestine, and the New World Foundation.
Taylor died in Cambridge in 1979. After her death, her papers were given to the Schlesinger Library which included her correspondence with Agnes and William Ernest Hocking.
“Learning without drudgery” Time magazine Feb. 10, 1947.
Edward Yeomans. Shady Hill School: The First Fifty Years Cambridge, Mass.: Windflower Press, 1979.
May Sarton, Recovering: A Journal, 1978-1979,. New York: W.W. Norton pp 242-244.
Return to Top of Page
Meriwether (Lewis) Thomas (b. August 21, 1905, in New York City,
d. August 6, 1997, in Cambridge)
Historian of science, astronomer, engineer, editor
Helen Meriwether Lewis began her early education in New York City, where her mother was a public school teacher, continuing her high school years at St. Catherine's School in Richmond, Virginia. She earned her A.B. from Radcliffe College in 1928 in government, but her interest in astronomy was stimulated by undergraduate work at the Harvard Observatory, where she assisted Professor Willem Luyten in identifying white dwarf stars. She married Frederick M. Thomas shortly after her graduation from college and they had one son. The marriage ended and she found employment in many organizations. She worked for three years as secretary to Leon Campbell, who headed the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO), then affiliated with the Harvard Observatory. She joined the Observatory staff under the remarkable woman astronomer Cecelia Payne-Goposchkin. During the late 1930s she also began to work towards a Ph.D. in the history of science under the supervision of Harvard professor George Sarton, preparing a thesis on the history of observations of variable stars from the second century B.C. to the nineteenth century A.D. For this, she studied both Latin and Arabic texts. At the beginning of World War II, her graduate work was interrupted by war work, and her degree was not awarded until 1948.
Helen Lewis Thomas was “drafted” first into the Harvard Radio Research Laboratory and, shortly after, into the MIT Radiation Laboratory, where she worked with the historian of science, Henry Guerlac, preparing a history of the laboratory. In 1947 she was named a senior engineer at Raytheon Manufacturing Company, where she remained until 1954, working on guidance systems. She returned to MIT as an editor and head of publications at the MIT Research Laboratory of Electronics until her retirement in 1971. In 1986, she was awarded a $50,000 prize by TWA for accurately predicting, thirty years before, the range, cruising speed, passenger capacity, and use of jet engines by commercial airlines (earning a listing in the Guinness Book of World Records). She died shortly before her ninety-second birthday, and a memorial service was held at Christ Church, Cambridge.
Dorritt, Hoffleit, “In Memory of Helen Meriwether Lewis Thomas, August 21 1905-August 6 1997.” Journal of the Association of Variable Star Observers ( JAAVSO) 28: 40-46, 2000;
Hoffleit, Dorritt “Eloge: Helen Meriwether Lewis Thomas, 21 August 1905-6 August 1997 [Obituary]” Isis 89: 316, 1998.
Return to Top of Page
Crutchfield Thompson (b.1902 in North Carolina, d.1985)
One of the first African American women to graduate from Tufts Dental School, Mary Crutchfield was the first black woman to practice dentistry in the Boston area. The only child of William and Lydia Hatch Crutchfield, Mary was born in North Carolina and raised in Cambridge, Mass. After graduation from Tufts College Dental School in 1930, she worked at the Boston Dispensary, and founded the Children’s Dental Clinic in her Cambridge home on Windsor Street. She was awarded a certificate in recognition of her contribution to the community for this clinic in 1938. She also worked as a dentist in the Cambridge Public Schools.
For a number of summers in the late 1930s, she worked with the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority’s Mississippi Health Project, a project initiated by this sorority founded by college trained African American women. She later served as the AKA chapter president.
She married Oscar Thompson in 1948. The couple, who later moved to Natick, Mass., believed in bringing races together and founded one of the first Fair Housing committees in America. The NAACP presented her with an outstanding achievement award for humanitarian services in 1973. In 1976 Alpha Kappa Alpha honored her by establishing in her name a scholarship at Tufts Dental School for female African American students.
Oral history of Mary Crutchfield Thompson in Black Women Oral History Project, conducted by Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe and in the Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College Northampton MA.
Schlesinger Library, online Flickr photo album, link viewed February 23, 2015: https://www.flickr.com/photos/schlesinger_library/13270319163/
Black Women in America, A Historical Encyclopedia ed. Darlene Clark, Carlson Publishing, Inc.,1993.
Return to Top of Page
Dixon Turner (b.1914, d. April 30, 2001, in Cambridge)
Ruth Turner was a biologist and Curator of Malacology (mollusks) at Harvard Museum of Comparative Biology. She earned her bachelor's degree in education at Bridgewater State College and a master’s degree in ornithology at Cornell University. She studied under William Clench, then curator of mollusks at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard, who continued to support her work. She obtained her Ph.D. degree in 1954 from the Harvard biology department (then granted to women only through Radcliffe College). She co-edited with Clench the journal Johnsonia, dedicated to western Atlantic mollusks. After Clench retired, Turner took over his position at the Harvard museum. She became the world’s expert on teredos, wood-boring bivalve mollusks, popularly known as “shipworms.” For this reason she was affectionately called “Lady Wormwood.” The U.S. Office of Naval Research funded much of Turner's research for over thirty years and found her work essential in understanding the deterioration of ships and dockage areas caused by shipworms. Working in collaboration with Dr. Robert Ballad of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, she used her knowledge of teredos to explain why wood remained in the wreckage of the doomed ocean liner the “Titanic”.
Turner was the first female scientist in the world to utilize the deep submergence research vehicle known as ALVIN for oceanographic research. An avid scuba diver well in to her 70’s, she was one of the first female members of the prestigious Boston Sea Rovers and was honored with their Diver of the Year Award in 1972. She mentored hundreds of young biologists and readily provided free room and board at her Cambridge home to needy graduate students. In 1976, when affirmative action was implemented, Turner became one of Harvard’s first tenured women professors as the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Malacology. Before her death, she received many awards and honorary degrees and served as consultant to many scientific organizations.
Harvard Gazette, May 2001
Return to Top of Page
Return to Alphabetical Index
Women's Heritage Project
March 27, 2007