Harriet Brooks

Harriet Brooks: Pioneer Nuclear Scientist

MARELENE F. RAYNER-CANHAM
GEOFFREY W. RAYNER-CANHAM
Copyright Date: 1992
Pages: 192
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zqmq
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  • Book Info
    Harriet Brooks
    Book Description:

    After completing a master's degree at McGill University under Rutherford's tutelage, Brooks continued her post-graduate work at Bryn Mawr College and Cambridge University, eventually returning to McGill to work again with Rutherford. In 1904 she left Canada to work at Barnard College in New York City, and then with Curie in Paris. Brooks had a significant career as a nuclear scientist, but her success was hampered by the fact that she was a woman. She eventually married and left research. Her premature death at age fifty-six was probably related to her work with radiation.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6318-6
    Subjects: Physics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. vii-ix)
  4. [Illustrations]
    (pp. x-2)
  5. CHAPTER 1 HARRIET BROOKS: PIONEER WOMAN PHYSICIST
    (pp. 3-9)

    There is very little documentation on early Canadian women scientists,¹ and most of those whose names have come to light worked in the biological sciences. Thus, the “discovery” of a pioneer Canadian woman physicist fills a significant gap in our knowledge of the role of women in early Canadian science. In this book, we will look at the life and work of Harriet Brooks, whose contribution to nuclear science has been overlooked for almost ninety years, and we will discuss her story in the context of the avenues open to women during her era.

    From the perspective of the late...

  6. CHAPTER 2 THE BROOKS FAMILY
    (pp. 10-14)

    Harriet Brooks was born on 2 July 1876 in Exeter, Ontario, a small town in western Ontario about forty-eight kilometres from London. The area was first settled in about 1832 and the village itself was founded in 1851. Many of the early pioneers had come from the county of Devon in England, and they named the town after Exeter, the county seat.¹ A number of industries were established in those early years of settlement: a tannery, a furniture factory, and then, later on, flax, flour, grist, saw, and woollen mills. Since Exeter was the chief market centre of the district,...

  7. CHAPTER 3 DEFYING CONVENTION: THE McGILL YEARS
    (pp. 15-24)

    It must have been an extraordinarily courageous decision of Harriet Brooks’s to decide to go to university. It had been barely six years earlier, in 1888, that the first woman had graduated from McGill and only twelve years since the first woman had obtained a university degree in Canada.¹ Many people, clinging to Victorian stereotypes, still believed that women should not be permitted to participate in higher education. This view was reinforced by prominent academics, such as the sociologist Herbert Spencer, who concluded that the differences between the sexes could best be understood in terms of “a somewhat earlier-arrest of...

  8. CHAPTER 4 A YEAR AT BRYN MAWR
    (pp. 25-31)

    Opened in 1885, Bryn Mawr was a women’s college. However, it looked more towards Johns Hopkins University as a model than to other women’s colleges, priding itself on standards, curriculum, and scholarship.¹ The institution was strongly dominated by its first president, M. Carey Thomas. Thomas tried to educate the students to be independent, competitive women who would never succumb to passivity. The Bryn Mawr women were seen by outsiders as eccentric, elitist, unusually intelligent, and markedly undomesticated. The graduates were not prepared for marriage but for independent careers, particularly in academia, in which they were expected to excel. As Wein...

  9. CHAPTER 5 LIFE WITH J.J. AT THE CAVENDISH
    (pp. 32-38)

    The Cavendish Laboratory was opened in 1874. The money behind the enterprise had been donated by the seventh duke of Devonshire, William Cavendish, for “a building for the teaching of Experimental Physics.”¹ The construction of this building marked the change from the classical small laboratory of the professor and his student to the large research laboratories of the twentieth century.²

    Although referred to as the Cavendish Laboratory, it was not just a single, laboratory. Instead, it was a massive, three-storey building, containing research laboratories for different fields of physics research, a large general laboratory for students, a large lecture room...

  10. CHAPTER 6 BACK HOME TO McGILL
    (pp. 39-43)

    Once back at McGill, Brooks resumed her work as a tutor at the Royal Victoria College and rejoined Rutherford’s research group. We have little direct knowledge of her life during this period, but we know that her research work relied heavily on measurements of the small electric charges induced by radioactivity. Such measurements were much easier to do in the damp climate of England than in the very dry winters of Montreal. Rutherford discussed the problem of electrostatic charge caused by walking across the varnished wood floors of the laboratory, and he devised a novel solution: “To reduce these disturbances...

  11. CHAPTER 7 THE RIGHTS OF A WOMAN: BARNARD COLLEGE
    (pp. 44-51)

    Barnard College was founded as a women’s college in central New York City in 1889. It was instituted as an adjunct of Columbia University, with the dean of Barnard reporting to the president of Columbia. Barnard initially emphasized its connection with the cosmopolitan culture of New York, though over time it came to more closely resemble the other women’s colleges. As Horowitz remarks: “By the turn of the century Barnard College had developed a unique blend of women’s college and urban university. Barnard collegians enjoyed teas and dances with Columbia students, giving them a taste of coeducational university life. As...

  12. CHAPTER 8 A SUMMER IN THE ADIRONDACKS
    (pp. 52-61)

    Three of the five letters that Brooks sent to Gill had the address of Summerbrook, Hurricane Ridge, New York. Her residence at this house in the Adirondacks marked a new direction in her life. Summerbrook was established by Prestonia Mann in 1896 to be operated by groups of social workers, settlement people, and writers on reform subjects in imitation of the Brooks Farm¹ (this Brooks was no relation to Harriet). The original Brooks Farm was a Utopian collectivist community founded by George Ripley. It was operated by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, and other Boston intellectuals in the...

  13. CHAPTER 9 EUROPEAN TRAVELS: CAPRI, PARIS, AND LONDON
    (pp. 62-71)

    According to Burenin, a bad storm arose during the crossing, but even so, he took a moment amid the swells to remark on the sumptuous surroundings.

    The large salon of the ship was covered with white furniture. Everywhere palm trees or lively flowers in multi-coloured majolican vases stood in their beauty, firmly rivetted to the floor. Original paintings by famous artists hung on the walls. Large mirrors with their own reflections greatly increased the size of the room. The bright sun flooded the entire salon and cheerfully reflected off glittering objects. There was a strong pitching storm, and huge masses...

  14. CHAPTER 1O THE EVENTFUL SUMMER OF 1907
    (pp. 72-82)

    Before turning to the details of Brooks’s engagement and subsequent marriage, we should look at the career choices that were open to her as a woman physicist. There were only two real options: she could have continued as a research assistant with Rutherford at Manchester or with Debierne in Paris, or she could have looked for an academic position at another women’s college in Canada or the United States.

    As a single woman in her thirties, she must have experienced the societal pressure towards marriage as well as the encouragement of her friends in this direction. In the book on...

  15. CHAPTER 11 ADAPTING TO MARRIED LIFE
    (pp. 83-91)

    After marriage, the Pitchers returned to Canada. Initially, they lived at 247 Bishop Street, Frank Pitcher’s address prior to their marriage, then in 1909 they moved to 990 Queen Mary Road, where they lived for the rest of their lives.¹ In a letter of 1908 from Eve to Rutherford, he mentions the Pitchers: “The Pitchers are very happy and are going to build a hut as a holiday resort near the Chapleau Club in the Laurentians.”²

    Harriet Brooks never did pursue her research after marriage (as far as we are aware), notwithstanding her belief in a woman’s right to continue...

  16. CHAPTER 12 FAMILY LIFE: FROM JOY TO SORROW
    (pp. 92-102)

    The Pitchers had three children: Barbara Anne Pitcher, born 19 October 1910; Charles Roger Pitcher, born 17 January 1912; and Paul Brooks Pitcher, born 5 August 1913.¹ Ernest Rutherford visited the family in April 1914, and he wrote back to his wife that the children were “all admirable specimens.”² The Rutherfords visited the Pitchers whenever they were in Montreal, and in a letter to Bertram Boltwood, Rutherford commented: “Just a line to say we have arrived safely in Montreal where we will stay for a few days. We are all well & fit. I am staying at the University Club...

  17. CHAPTER 13 WHY HAS BROOKS BEEN OVERLOOKED?
    (pp. 103-108)

    There are many reasons why we should not be surprised that the life of Brooks has been overlooked by historians. Although the discipline of the history of science originated in the 1920s and 1930s, it was not until the 1970s that the history of women in science became a popular field of study in the United States and Europe.¹ In Canada, this field is only now developing. Such lateness is due in part to the overwhelming demands on the few Canadian women historians.² But even more the fault lies with science historians in general, for it cannot be claimed that...

  18. APPENDIX 1: THE RADIOACTIVE DECAY SERIES
    (pp. 109-112)
  19. APPENDIX 2: THE CAVENDISH SONG
    (pp. 113-115)
  20. APPENDIX 3: ADDRESS BY HARRIET BROOKS TO THE McGILL ALUMNAE SOCIETY
    (pp. 116-122)
  21. NOTES
    (pp. 123-154)
  22. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 155-164)
  23. INDEX
    (pp. 165-168)