Friday, August 15, 2014

Margaret Eliza Maltby (10 December 1860 – 3 May 1944)

Margaret Eliza Maltby was an American physicist notable for measurement of high electrolytic resistances and conductivity of very dilute solutions. She was born in Bristolville, Ohio, and died in New York City.

Most of her significant research occurred before she began teaching at Barnard College, a women's college founded in 1889, where her involvement in administration left her little time for research. Maltby was a mentor to her students, vigorously extending efforts to support their professional advancement. During her 31 years of teaching at Barnard, and the nearly 20 years that she was chair of the physics department, Maltby took a great interest in her students' learning, even introducing physics courses for non-physicists, including probably the first course in the physics of music.

There are many examples of her efforts to support the professional advancement of female physicists. As chair of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) Committee on Fellowships, Maltby administered funds that supported women actively engaged in physics research during the early part of their careers. Since women were not eligible for many research fellowships because of their gender, the AAUW Fellowships were critical for maintaining a cadre of women physicists. Maltby's enormous effort contributed to the Fellowships' preservation.

Despite the college's Dean's Rule that stated, "the College cannot afford to have women on the staff to whom the college work is secondary; the College is not willing to stamp with approval a woman to whom self-elected home duties can be secondary," Maltby supported women's efforts to do both. As chair of the Physics Department, she vigorously opposed the forced resignation of Harriet Brooks when she planned to marry.

Physicist and History of Science interviewer Katharine Sopka wrote that her students greatly admired her. One wrote her that, "Professor Maltby was my mentor--a gracious lady--a friend and a counselor. Her most memorable advice to me was not to forgo marriage for a career--which advice I followed and lived happily ever after." Maltby, never married, although she adopted the orphaned son of a close friend in 1901.

The first edition of American Men of Science, published in 1906, recognized her name with star to note her as one of the country's top scientists.

A.B. Oberlin College 1882
A.M. Oberlin College 1891
B.S. Massachusetts Institute of Technology 1891
Ph.D. Göttingen University 1895 under Friedrich Kohlrausch.

In 1887, Maltby enrolled as a "special student" at MIT because the institution did not accept female students. She was the first woman to earn a B.S. degree at MIT in 1891. She was the first American woman allowed to take a degree at University of Göttingen in 1895. She was also the first woman to receive a PhD from Göttingen University; in fact, she was the first woman to obtain a physics PhD from any German university. She completed a year of postdoctoral work at Göttingen.

1889-93 Chair, Physics Department, Wellesley College
1897-98 Instructor, Lake Erie College
1898-99 Research Assistant, Physikalisch-Technische Reichsanstalt, Charlottenburg, Germany
1900-03 Instructor, Chemistry Department, Barnard College, Columbia University
1903-10 Adjunct Professor, Physics Department, Barnard College
1910-13 Assistant Professor, Barnard College
1913-31 Associate Professor and Chair, Physics Department, Barnard College

Invited back to Germany in 1898, Maltby worked under Friedrich Kohlrausch and helped set the methodology in the field of conductivity.

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