Wednesday, April 12, 2017

No Place for Women

Retired NASA Chemist, Winifred Huo, was born in Guangzhou, China two weeks before the start of the Sino-Japanese war.  She recalls the first eight years of her life as looking for a safe place to live, and a place where her father could work. (see post one.) Winifred's highly-educated father was assigned to Guangdong to help build the impossible: the Burma Road. (see post two.) Two years after arriving, the Japanese invaded and the family had to make a quick escape. (see post three.) Thanks to Winifred's mother, despite all the moving about, Winifred excelled at her studies.  And, when she finally landed in Hong Kong for high school, she found her passion in the sciences.(see post four.) When she graduated--while the University of Hong Kong would not accept her because of some British rulings--she got a place at the University of Taiwan. (see post five.) In 1957, her father was offered an exchange post at Purdue University. This coincided with Sputnik--and was a time when America needed scientists--and he was offered a green card, the family was welcome to the U.S. (see post six.) She pursued graduate studies in science at the University of Chicago where she was often the only woman in the class. (post seven.) 
Upon graduation, Winifred did a post-doc at Harvard, taught at Rutgers, the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie-Mellon and University of Notre Dame.  I asked if she ever ran up against discrimination.
She said that she did, adding, “I’m pretty thick-skinned. It didn’t bother me much. But when I moved from Harvard to New Jersey, because my husband was teaching in New Jersey, my professor contacted three places for me. He contacted AT&T, Rutgers, and Princeton. 
"Princeton said, ‘We don’t have a position for females.’ 
"AT&T said, ‘We don’t take women employees in physical sciences.  You could be a secretary, but we don’t take women employees.’ 
"This was between ‘67-‘69.”

She managed to get a research position at Carnegie-Mellon, although she was way beyond the researching phase in her life. 
“My boss was trying to get me into a regular teaching position.  He said he was upset because one of the comments the other faculty made was, ‘She’s doing pretty well, as a woman.’”
(To be continued. Next: NASA Rewarding Career for Women)

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