As the new Fellowships and Grants intern, I get to read about AAUW alumnae dating back to the 19th century. While scanning a book about alumnae, a familiar name caught my eye — Emma P. Carr of Mount Holyoke College. Mount Holyoke is my alma mater and was the first of the Seven Sisters colleges. When I read the name, I thought, Carr — as in the Carr Laboratory on campus? How many times had I sat in that building while knowing very little about the individual who earned such an honor? So I decided to find out more about Carr.
Carr, who was born in Ohio in 1880, lived a life full of remarkable academic and scientific achievements. In 1913 — within three years of earning her doctoral degree from the University of Chicago — she was named chair of Mount Holyoke’s Chemistry Department. Early in her career, Carr’s research on the relationship between atoms and molecules was published in the leading American chemical journals, and she received a 1929–30 AAUW Alice Freeman Palmer National Fellowship. Carr used the fellowship to travel to the University of Zurich to work with leading chemists and to further her research.
Carr’s contribution to science did not go unrecognized. In 1937, she was the first recipient of the Francis P. Garvan Gold Medal, given out annually by the American Chemical Society to honor a distinguished woman chemist. The award, now called the Francis P. Garvan-John M. Olin Medal, is still given today.
While Carr’s personal achievements and contributions to science and the field of chemistry are truly impressive, she also left an academic legacy that merits permanent commemoration on Mount Holyoke’s campus. She created the school’s research program, which gave students the opportunity to engage in hands-on, groundbreaking research. Until her retirement in 1946, Carr taught and inspired many women and was responsible for the growth and strength of the science program at Mount Holyoke.
In 1945, American Men of Science listed 62 graduates of eight leading women’s colleges who earned doctoral degrees in chemistry, and Mount Holyoke’s graduates made up 42 percent of the total. For a small school, that is a strong history of scientific achievement. Carr retired from teaching in 1946, but she remained part of the scientific field until her death in 1972.
Mount Holyoke is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year, and AAUW’s Fellowships and Grants program will be celebrating 125 years soon. When few people believed women could excel in traditionally male-dominated fields, both Mount Holyoke and AAUW backed brilliant women who dared others to question their abilities. Thanks to these organizational efforts, women like Carr — a scientist, professor, writer, and chemist — traveled the world, worked with scientists and students, and left a legacy of pioneering research.
The next time I visit Mount Holyoke College, I will remind myself that the names of campus buildings represent people who lived extraordinary lives.
This post was written by AAUW Fellowships and Grants Intern Emily McGranachan.