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Anslow, Gladys Amelia (22 May 1892–31 March 1969), physicist, educator, and spectroscopist, was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, the daughter of John Anslow, a textile colorist, lay preacher, and insurance agent, and Ella Iola Leonard, an art and music teacher. In 1909 she entered Smith College in nearby Northampton. Her first science course there was Frank Waterman’s sophomore physics, which she found thrilling. In her junior year she took laboratory physics, using Waterman’s text, and in her senior year she took courses in mechanics, electricity, and magnetism from Waterman....

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See Kalmus, Herbert Thomas

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Maltby, Margaret Eliza (10 December 1860–03 May 1944), physicist, college professor, and administrator, was born on the family farm in Bristolville, Ohio, the daughter of Edmund Maltby and Lydia Jane Brockway. She graduated with a bachelor of arts degree from Oberlin College in Ohio in 1882 and spent the next year in New York City at the Art Students League. She then returned to Ohio and taught in high schools for four years....

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Mayer, Maria Gertrude Goeppert (28 June 1906–20 February 1972), physicist, was born in Kattowitz, Germany (now Katowice, Poland), the daughter of Frederich Goeppert, a pediatrician, and Maria Wolff. Maria Goeppert grew up in the university town of Göttingen, Germany, where her father became a professor of pediatrics at the University of Göttingen in 1910. With his encouragement, she became interested in science and mathematics at an early age and enrolled in the same university in 1924 to study mathematics....

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Payne-Gaposchkin, Cecilia (10 May 1900–07 December 1979), astrophysicist, was born in Wendover, England, the daughter of Edward John Payne, a lawyer and historian, and Emma Pertz, an artist. Payne’s father died when she was four years old, leaving slender resources for his wife and three children. Nonetheless, Cecilia, her brother Humfry, and her sister Lenora all traveled as children and attended private schools and university. Cecilia entered Newnham College of Cambridge University in 1919. Encouraged by the example of her aunt Dorothea Pertz, she planned to study science. Courses in botany, physics, and chemistry would prepare her to teach in a girls’ school. Toward the end of her first year at Newnham, Payne heard the astronomer Arthur Eddington lecture on his recent solar eclipse observations and their confirmation of ...

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Quimby, Edith Hinkley (10 July 1891–11 October 1982), physicist, was born in Rockford, Illinois, the daughter of Arthur S. Hinkley, an architect and farmer, and Harriet Hinkley, whose maiden name and married name were the same. As a child, Edith Hinkley moved with her family from Illinois to Alabama and then to Boise, Idaho, where she attended high school. At Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, she studied physics and mathematics and received a B.S. in 1912. She then taught high school science in Nyssa, Oregon, for two years and in 1914 enrolled in the graduate physics program at the University of California at Berkeley. In 1915 she married fellow student Shirley L. Quimby, with whom she had no children, and in 1916 received an M.A. in physics....

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Ride, Sally K. (26 May 1951–23 July 2012), astronaut, physicist, and science educator, was born Sally Kristen Ride in Los Angeles, California, the elder child of Joyce and Dale B. Ride. Dale, a World War II veteran, taught high school social studies before teaching political science at Santa Monica Community College. Joyce worked briefly at UCLA and volunteered for decades for women’s prison reform. Ride’s younger sister, Karen, whom Sally called “Bear” (a nickname that stuck permanently), grew up to become an ordained Presbyterian minister. Ride attributed her self-contained disposition to her mother’s Norwegian heritage and her introverted family....

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Sally Ride, 1983, unknown photographer

courtesy of NASA

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Whiting, Sarah Frances (23 August 1847–12 September 1927), physicist and astronomer, was born in Wyoming, New York, the daughter of Joel Whiting, a teacher and principal, and Elizabeth Lee Comstock. A precocious child, Whiting was tutored by her father and started studying Greek at age eight and Latin at age ten. She often assisted even as a young child in preparing scientific experiments for her father’s classes in physics. Whiting graduated in 1865 from Ingham University (named Ingham Collegiate Institute from 1841 to 1857) at LeRoy, New York. As one of about a dozen pre–Civil War colleges in the United States to grant degrees to women, Ingham University was chartered by the New York legislature in 1857 to grant degrees to women enrolled in a four-year course of study. After graduating at the age of eighteen, Whiting began her career in education by teaching classics and math there and later at the Brooklyn Heights Seminary for girls for about ten years....

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Wu, Chien-Shiung (31 May 1912–16 February 1997), nuclear physicist, was born in Liuhe, China, to Wu Zhongyi and Fan Fuhua. Wu Zhongyi participated in the 1911 Chinese Revolution and advocated for women’s equality. He founded a school for girls in Liuhe, where Chien-Shiung received her early education. He also encouraged her to study science. In 1922 Chien-Shiung went to Soochow Girls School in Suzhou for high school. There she followed in her father’s footsteps by studying science and engaging in revolutionary activities. In 1930 she began studying at National Central University in Nanjing and continued her political activism. After she earned her bachelor’s degree in 1934, she was accepted to graduate school in physics at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor....

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Yalow, Rosalyn (19 July 1921–30 May 2011), medical physicist, was born Rosalyn Sussman in the Bronx, New York. Her mother, Clara (née Zipper), was born in Germany; her father, Simon Sussman, a wholesaler of packaging materials, moved his family from the Lower East Side of Manhattan to the Bronx, where his daughter stayed for most of her life. In girlhood Rosalyn contributed to the family wage by cutting out patterns for her uncle’s necktie business. Although neither of her parents went to college, she had ambitions to pursue a career in science. She learned to read before kindergarten, and when there were no books in the house, she checked them out of the public library. She attended Walton High School before entering Hunter College of the City University of New York. At Hunter, she saw guest lecturer Enrico Fermi speak on radioisotopes and urged administrators to inaugurate a physics major. The year was 1939; by January 1941 she had become the first student to complete the nascent physics program, graduating magna cum laude at the age of nineteen....