In 1947, a 17 year old young woman graduated from high school in Upstate, NY. Having an A+ average, she was accepted into New York University. The following fall, she traveled down to the city to begin her studies in biology. Two months after receiving her degree, she accepted a job working in the cancer research labs at Sloan-Kettering. In time, she was in charge of an entire lab. Who is she? She is my mother.
I am perplexed by stories about young women not choosing careers studies in math and science. So much is discussed and written in terms of the society preventing females from following this path. While I don’t disagree that there may still be some obstacles out there, I do believe that the family has the biggest impact on the choices of our girls. My mother’s family didn’t totally understand why she chose to study biology. They thought nursing was a more viable option. Yet, they did not prevent her from choosing her major. The same followed for me and my siblings. Whatever choices we made regarding school or career was ours to make.
The fact that I had a parent who was allowed to make such a decision played a huge factor in knowing that I had the freedom to go into science. My younger sister also made the same choice and became a successful engineer. The achievement in math and science in my family was considered a good thing, and not something to disregard because we were girls. I remember at the time some of my peers not having the same encouragement. Their families felt that it was wiser for their daughters to work in a more traditional female job. That is perfectly acceptable if it is the choice of the young woman, but if she has the talent and the interest to pursue areas pertaining to math and science, the opportunities are abundant.
Society is not telling our girls they are not good at math and science. That is a myth that has been handed down through the years. Lest we forget the thousands of women who went to work during World War II working on projects that required a great deal of technical aptitude. There have been many women who have made discoveries besides Madam Curie not present in our history books. There are numerous female doctors, engineers, researchers, and professors who are presently working in a multitude of capacities. There are a considerable number of female high school science teachers who present a role model to our children every day. No one in “society” is telling our girls not to pursue their dreams.
In 1947, a brilliant young woman walked her own path. There were many others just like her who paved the road way before the issue of female equality was explored. If they were able to do it during their lifetime, there is no reason why women today can’t as well. It takes determination, hard work, encouragement, and a desire to live out a chance of fulfillment. Let us stop telling stories about women not doing something because of society, and start telling about women who do because they can.