“She is from New York. She’s Jewish. She is a woman”

(Cross-posted from the Century Foundation’s Taking Note site)

There are many good reasons to fork over the cash and support the New York Times. The obituary section is one of those reasons.

Today’s Times includes a nicely-written obituary of the biophysicist Rosalyn Yalow. She was only the second woman to win the Nobel Prize in medicine for her contributions to endocrinology.

Incidentally, she was one of two woman graduates of the same public high school (Walton) in the Bronx to win this prize. That’s 20 percent of all women to win the medicine prize. That pioneering generation of Jewish women was (and is) pretty awesome in breaking down many barriers.

This story is remarkable for many reasons. Not least it illustrates the amazing gender (and religious) discrimination she was able to overcome:

At Walton High School in the Bronx, she wrote, a “great” teacher had excited her interest in chemistry…

Her interests gravitated to physics after she read Eve Curie’s 1937 biography of her mother, Marie Curie, a two-time Nobel laureate for her research on radioactivity….

She went on to Hunter College, becoming its first physics major and graduating with high honors at only 19. After she applied to Purdue University for a graduate assistantship to study physics, the university wrote back to her professor: “She is from New York. She is Jewish. She is a woman. If you can guarantee her a job afterward, we’ll give her an assistantship.”

No guarantee was possible, and the rejection hurt, Dr. Yalow told an interviewer. “They told me that as a woman, I’d never get into graduate school in physics,” she said, “so they got me a job as a secretary at the College of Physicians and Surgeons and promised that, if I were a good girl, I would take courses there.” The college is part of Columbia University.

In other news… Are you worried about the link between cell phones and cancer? Here is me over at the New Republic.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect, tnr.com, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

One thought on ““She is from New York. She’s Jewish. She is a woman””

Comments are closed.