Today, most little girls are raised to understand they can be anything they want when they grow up. Doctor, astronaut, firefighter, mechanic… the careers that were once reserved exclusively for men are now open to anyone who has the passion and skill for them, regardless of gender – even president of the United States. We have a feeling that our first female president is alive today… and has been prepping for the job all her life with the help of supportive parents and teachers.
It wasn't always like that, of course. It hasn't been very long since women were gently (or not-so-gently) steered away from most professions, expected to be homemaker, or perhaps secretary, nurse or teacher. That's why we were inspired by this story of a woman who, 70 years ago, skipped her teacher’s not-so-helpful advice and followed her dream to become a research chemist.
Marjorie Lesher Hunt ignored the Michigan State University dean’s suggestion around 1940 that female chemistry majors should seek secretary and librarian jobs, according to the obituary published in the Lansing (Mich.) State Journal.***
Marjorie, who died March 30 at age 90, helped form the first campus organization for women majoring in chemistry at Michigan State, where she earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree.
She went on to work after graduation as a research chemist in nutrition projects for the Children's Fund of Michigan, earn a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Chicago and take a research position with chemist and future Nobel laureate Paul Flory at Cornell University.
After moving to Pullman, Wash., where her husband, John, taught chemistry, Marjorie worked in the Agricultural Chemistry Department at Washington State University (WSU) until their first child was born. She later did research in physical chemistry at WSU before retiring in 1982.
Thanks, Marjorie, for paving the way.
This post was contributed by Alana Baranick, a freelance obituary writer. She is the director of the Society of Professional Obituary Writers and chief author of Life on the Death Beat: A Handbook for Obituary Writers.