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Oral-History:Virginia Powell Strong

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Revision as of 19:56, 12 May 2014

Contents

About the Virginia Powell Strong

Strong was a chemistry undergrad major at the University of Pittsburgh, graduating in April 1942. She and her husband, Roger Powell, came to work for the Rad Lab in January 1943. She worked on high burn-out crystals, trying to find a method to pre-shock crystals so they could withstand combat stresses. She had some interactions with Raytheon and Union Carbide. There weren’t very many women at the Rad Lab on staff; she was treated well, though. Her later career was derailed by kids, but she ended up as a high school science teacher, including important administrative positions.

About the Interview

VIRGINIA POWELL STRONG: An Interview Conducted by William Aspray, IEEE History Center, 11 June 1991

Interview # 083 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, 39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Virginia Powell Strong, an oral history conducted in 1991 by William Aspray, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.

Interview

Interview: Virginia Powell Strong

Interviewer: William Aspray

Date: 11 June 1991

Location: Boston, Massachusetts

Education and Recruitment to Rad Lab

Aspray:

This is an interview on the 11th of June 1991 with Virginia Strong. The interviewer is William Aspray. It's part of the Rad Lab Oral History Project.

Strong:

My name is Virginia Mae Porter Powell Strong. I was born on November 9, 1920 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My parents were emigres from Northern Ireland. My father came in 1912 as a journeyman, or a master carpenter, and then the British war broke out, and mother didn't get here until November of 1919; I was born a year later. No one in my family, that I know of, had previously had university education, although I've learned that one or two of my cousins have. Having a female child who went into science was quite unexpected. But in my last year in high school, having to fill in a program, I decided I'd take chemistry. I had one of the old school of chemistry teachers, a fuddy-duddy little bachelor who was shy with girls. But somehow, this was what I had been looking for. So I took chemistry, and when I went to the University of Pittsburgh, I decided to declare a chemistry major with the idea that if that didn't work out, I could go back to French and Latin, which had been my other interests. Strange how life moves you in different directions. So I entered Pitt and found with Charles Glen King, the co-discoverer of vitamin C and my freshman teacher, just found what I had been looking for and never looked back.

Aspray:

I see.

Strong:

I was a senior December 6, 1941 when the war broke out. We went home for Christmas vacation, and when we arrived back, they said, "You're going to take your first semester finals next week, and you're going to graduate April 10th" because we were into the start of the accelerated program with the military — V12, V6. I graduated summa and all the honorary societies I was eligible for; Phi Beta wasn't on campus, but I was a member and the equivalent of vice president. I met my husband, Roger Sherman Powell, who was also at the Lab, when I was a sophomore. He was a year ahead of me, graduated in physics and electrical engineering, and then worked at Mellon Institute for a year. We were married in July of '42 and he was recruited for the Radiation Lab. So we came to Radiation Lab in January of '43. He had a position; I shopped around. I wanted more chemistry than I thought MIT would offer me, and there was an interesting position at Mass. General. But finally I went over and interviewed with Rad Lab. They offered me a position there, and it made very good sense.

Work Life at Rad Lab

Strong:

For the first month to six weeks, while my Q clearance came through, I sat in the library, and they wouldn't even tell me too much of what I was going to be working on. They talked about crystals, and the only crystals I could think of were the piezoelectric quartz crystals, which wouldn't involve electricity. That wasn't the kind of crystals at all, as I found, they wanted me to do. My particular project was high burn-out crystals. High-grade silicon was doped with trace amounts of aluminum, and then the whole thing heated up to the melting point of silicon, so it melted and was cooled. Then it was made into the crystal rectifiers that turned radar sets off and on. Tubes were the only other alternative, but tubes did not hold up to the stress of being in aircraft. So this diode that we made was silicon wafer doped with aluminum. We silver-plated the bottoms so they could contact little brass pins. Then we cut tungsten whiskers and crimped them so that their little springs made. The contact was between the silicon wafer and the tungsten whisker. Then it was filled with a plastic sort of stuff once it was made. It would be mechanically strong.

Aspray:

Was the technology of crystal diodes known at the time?

Strong:

It was in its infancy.

Aspray:

Were there any manufacturers at the time?

Strong:

We were working with Raytheon. But the research assignment was that crystals burned out quite readily. You'd get an unexpected return surge of power, and POOOF! Then you were down like a computer because this one little widget popped. So what our challenge was, was to produce, to test, and to pre-shock these crystals. If it passed our test, then we could send them on to the military. We were also doing research for people such as Raytheon. We handmade everything from melting the silicon in a vacuum chamber to the final testing. And then, of course, we did it. There was also a theoretical group. Hill, Huntington, Charlie Whitmer, Henry Torrey were theoretical, and they also did some experimental work. I spent a lot of my time in an Radio Frequency (RF) cage. An RF cage is made of half-inch chicken wire to cut out the radio frequencies, so that I knew what I was producing wasn't going to get any strange stuff in it. I lived in there with an oscilloscope. Down the hall there were just two staff, of which I was one. I was amazed when they hired me for a position on the staff, because I had just an undergraduate degree. But I had a summa in chemistry, and they were willing to make me staff. I was not a technician.

Aspray:

Yes, I understand that.

Strong:

Everybody assumed because I was female and 22, I was a technician. But I did my job well. That was part of it. There were two staff and two technicians. We ran our own little manufacturing thing in a space that wasn't much larger than this cubicle.

Aspray:

So 10 feet by 10 feet or something on that order.

Strong:

Something like that. You can't believe how crowded they were for space. They made radomes with protective wooden covers. The man who made them was William Shakespeare, and we almost never saw him because he had his woodworking shop down in Cohasset, and he'd drop in once in a while. Then in what would be a little bit of that space, Jerry Wiesner was working on microwave conduits, right in the same room. There were no partitions. You staked out a desk and a chair. That was very exciting because it was like a one-room schoolhouse. You could go and hang over anybody's bench and ask them what they were doing.

Aspray:

Did that happen all the time?

Strong:

All the time. I think it happened all the time. We worked 48 hours a week, six days a week, eight hours a day, and that was just what you were expected to work. There were many people who were in field work who would work 12, 16 hours, go home two or three hours, sleep, shower, and then get back to it. The job had to be done. Fortunately, we were all young and vigorous. Dr. Lee DuBridge, who was the head of the Lab, was the old man of the Lab. He was about 40. I think the average age was about 30. One of the rumors that was going around is that radar made you sterile, and we had an enormous birth explosion at that place because we were at the right age. We put to rest all those rumors.

Crystal Diodes

Aspray:

You said that you had responsibility for manufacturing these crystal diodes. Was that your charge from the beginning? I mean, part of the history of the Laboratory is that devices were originally to be made as test apparatus, and then later on they took over the manufacturing.

Strong:

Oh, yes. But the point I'm making is we didn't buy Raytheon's crystals and test them. We started from scratch. We had a mini manufacturing thing. We learned the lab techniques, then we passed it on to Raytheon.

Aspray:

Was Raytheon responsible for the mass manufacture of them?

Strong:

Yes, and we were responsible for the custom/experimental work.

Aspray:

Did some of the ones that you built actually get sent out into the field and used?

Strong:

Every Tuesday night, we had seminars which was the one time the whole Rad Lab staff ever met as a group. We were all working in little bits and corners. I remember we made a batch and processed them, and ten days later, we got a report from someone who had been there, that they had been used in the fire-bombing of Dresden. For a pretty pacifistic person, that was a shocker. It stopped being a nice scientific experiment. And we would get field reports from the Pacific and so on. But we got ten-day battle feedback that this thing, at least, was working. I've taken a while to exorcise myself from that. I wouldn't do it again.

Aspray:

Why is that?

Strong:

I am now a committed Quaker. I was not at the time. Not to justify it, but we sort of had the feeling that was the last good war. I'm not sure it was. I mean, I don't think any war is good, especially [considering] all the rest of this garbage we've been doing in the last 35 years.

Raytheon and Union Carbide

Aspray:

You've mentioned Raytheon, so why don't we take this opportunity to talk about the relationship of the Laboratory with Raytheon as you saw it. Tell me about what happened, how they worked together.

Strong:

Most of our relationships were very informal. I can tell you about our relationship with Union Carbide, too, later. Their engineers would come to us with their problems. We'd given them a report on where we were standing at this point. We would go out to do site visits up in Salem, or have them come and sit with us for three days while we were running a batch of the melt, and then the diamond cutting, and the plating, and the grinding and so on, so that they could see. Because even without the high-voltage shot we gave them to pre-shock them, they weren't getting anything like the quality of crystals that we were building in our little corner of the lab. So that was essentially a continuing relationship with some of the engineers. We understood their production problems. But we had them come and see what they might have been doing differently that could have made a run-of-the-line crystal better.

Aspray:

Did they have a good-quality staff, technical staff?

Strong:

They did not have a scientific staff. They had an engineering staff. And they had a lot of technicians who didn't know what they were doing, had never managed a weld in their lines before. You'd get the training problems that would come in. They had good intentions, but in a production situation they couldn't take the time that we did in the lab. I had much faith in them, though.

Aspray:

You did?

Strong:

Yes. They were doing the best they could, as everybody else was. Toward the end of the process, they had upped their quality. At that point we had one male technician. He just was a jack of all trades. He knew how to silver-plate things, so he would get up cyanide baths for silvering. He would cut tungsten whiskers and plop them in lucite. Then we'd crimp them. He was a good technician. We hired a young woman with a large magnifying glass to assemble the crystals, and she was very good, too. There were four of us. We were a small team, and everybody would do anything.

Aspray:

Can you give me some sense of the reliability of the Raytheon crystals by the end of the time? Is there a success rate of some sort?

Strong:

That would be a useful way to measure it. They were much improved. We just opened up all the technology, including the pre-shocking, which I think separated the sheep from the goats in terms of that. If they wanted very high-class or experimental stuff, they would still come to us for it. But we were all making things nobody had ever made in the world before. So we were all making our mistakes together.

Aspray:

What was Raytheon's prior experience that they would be the contractor?

Strong:

Raytheon was in the vacuum tube business. Some switching was done in vacuum tubes, but then that technology became obsolete.

Aspray:

Was this the functional equivalent?

Strong:

Yes. That's right. And the first crystals came from England. Then we took them apart. At that point, which may have been '40, '41, I think they started subcontracting whatever there was out to Raytheon. Then in '42 and '43 it became obvious there was a research problem for high burn-out. So that then came into the Lab.

Aspray:

Is this an appropriate time to talk about Union Carbide?

Strong:

Every six weeks all the people who were working on silicon semiconductors and solid-state would meet down at Columbia University. We'd go down on the train overnight, get off and have breakfast together, and then go up to Columbia for a whole day's meetings.

Aspray:

Why were they held at Columbia?

Strong:

It was central. People came up from Bell Labs. People came down from Radiation Lab. Some people came by train in — a whole day's trip — from Chicago. It was a central place. Then any time we were there, we would go to Union Carbide, from whom we bought our raw silicon. We wanted it 99.99 percent pure — or as good as they had. Because then when we added aluminum, we wanted to know that there was not much else there. I was not concerned with the contractual and the money-paying relationships, but I know that we could go down, and we could say, "What's the best of your run currently and can we have a kilo of it?"

Aspray:

Were they cooperative?

Strong:

Absolutely. There was probably money passed some place, but it wasn't my concern. I just know that was the best source for ultra-pure silicon.

Aspray:

Did they have to introduce new techniques for purifying their material?

Strong:

They may have. Or they may just have selected the best of their runs for us because there's margin for error on that.

Crystal Work in Group 53

Aspray:

Where did your group fit in organizationally within the Laboratory?

Strong:

I was in Group 53. Group 5 was RF components, and Group 53 was a subgroup of that concerned with crystals particularly.

Aspray:

When you were talking about your shock tests before, did you know what to do? I mean, was it apparent what methods you used for your objectives?

Strong:

As I told you, I had known nothing about silicon except its there on the periodic table. My particular charge was to try to develop a chemical means, calorimetric means, for detecting percentage of silicon, percentage of aluminum. There wasn't too much in the literature, but I did faithfully research it. I went up to the chemical stockroom, and one of the components was a uranium salt. I nearly threw the place into a tizzy. They almost arrested me. Because nobody asked for uranium salts in 1942. You know, that was very suspect. I wasn't even canny enough to realize why I got the hard treatment from them.

Aspray:

How did you learn what kind of shock treatment to implement?

Strong:

Oh. They tried to duplicate what they knew was happening in systems, in practice, in aircraft or in radar systems for location for aircraft coming in. When crystals burned out, they had other indications that there was a power surge. They told me, let's try this whole series of power surges and see if we get to a place where we blow them all out, or until we get to a good tolerable performance rate.

Aspray:

So it really was an experimentally developed technique.

Strong:

Yes. Empirical.

Information Exchange and Seminars

Aspray:

How did you learn about the whole field of radar, and how much did you have to learn to do your particular job?

Strong:

I did not have to go to radar school, as many people did, because my commitment was quite narrow. It was theoretically a chemical one, but I learned rough and ready. I couldn't set up a radar set today unless I had a good instruction manual. But I learned the broad picture of what goes in and what comes out, and how the part I was working on played. When I was in these Columbia meetings, I learned a great deal about solid-state that I didn't know. The men who were giving the talks were on the leading edge. And, as a side comment, there were no other women in that semiconductor group.

Aspray:

In interacting with a systems group, would they set some specifications for you? How did you learn what the environment was like for these systems?

Strong:

The division managers met on a very regular basis and chitchatted those problems. Then they filtered down to us. They could see the large picture. Crystal burn-out was everybody's pain. But I had no part of that decision-making. It happened a couple of layers up. But the people who were seeing the overall system, they knew what they wanted. Then if crystal burn-out was part of the problem, they'd come to us.

Aspray:

In addition to your periodic meetings at Columbia, were there meetings at the Rad Lab that were important to you? Either ad hoc or regular.

Strong:

There was the Tuesday night seminar, which were a physics education in itself, with Bethe, Rabi, Hansen, and all these people. It was a heady situation. When I was down at Columbia at one of the meetings, my immediate boss, Marvin Fox, stopped me and he said, "Do you know who that is down the hall?" And he says, "It's Nicholas Baker. That is, Niels Bohr." You would be in that aura! He was here consulting during that time. Yes, it was a superb education. We had some fine theoreticians, and then we had the experimental type people. Whenever there was a problem, we'd just get together. Somebody would wander in and say, "You know, could you do this for us?" "Could you try this?" "Could you up the aluminum another percent? Let's see what happens."

Organization and Experimentation

Aspray:

To what degree was the product you produced driven by these external forces as opposed to your own testing that shows that this is the best thing to provide?

Strong:

We just did the best we could. They might suggest, and they might say, we need. But they couldn't tell us to do anything, because nobody knew what was going to happen. This essence of being very free-wheeling is quite a rare experience. I'm sure we had bosses, and I'm sure we had a lot of demands, and I'm sure there were some things they wanted us to do that nobody could do and we couldn't do, but it was all on a quite informal basis. You never felt the hierarchy too much. It had to do with the quality of the people. I think the curiosity of a scientist drove people more than who's boss.

Aspray:

Did you have a sense that this was an organization that was run by the physicists to support physicists? You came out of another scientific tradition.

Strong:

They were there first. But they used everybody.

Strong:

Anthropologists, artists. I mentioned Shakespeare, the master woodworker. You know, whatever talents there were, were used. I know now that Bob Pound and Purcell were doing their Nobel Laureate work right outside my cage. They were attending to their lab work, but they had some of their own agenda. But the lab work was their commitment. I think that was true. You just can't turn a scientist's curiosity off. If his mind's going this way, he's going to make time between two and three in the morning to do it.

Aspray:

Why don't you tell me if there is more to say on the technical level about the challenges, about the way your work proceeded, and so on.

Strong:

It was short-term enough, and you got some successes, so that you had a lot of satisfaction in that way. Not everything worked, but there was enough that worked short term that you could get personal satisfaction out of doing a good job. That was very important. We came so close to finding the transistor, I can't believe it. All it took was putting a second cat's whisker on that little disk, and we would have made a transistor.

Aspray:

Were there discussions in the laboratory about alternative uses of these semiconductor devices?

Strong:

No, they were just so delighted that they had an off-on switch that worked and wasn't a vacuum tube. I remember sitting there with a crystal in the minimal thing. And Marvin Fox came in with a goose-neck lamp, and shone it on it, and we got a photoelectric effect. I couldn't explain it, and he couldn't explain it, and nobody else with Ph.D.'s in the division could explain it.

Documents and Records

Aspray:

Let's turn for a minute to questions about documentation. Future historians who might want to look back at the Rad Lab will want to look at paper records. What kinds of records were produced by your group?

Strong:

I kept lab books which I surrendered when I left, and they were my data books on runs. Also, they taught me the whole process. I ran a vacuum system, melted and doped aluminum, and weighed and measured, and took it from step 1, all through the cutting, and the processing, and the surface treatment with hydrofluoric acid to clean off the surface, and so on. So I have lab books some place. I was looking in Volume 15, which was crystal rectifiers. I mentioned. I'm a junior author there. I did not produce many articles. I was there in only a couple of occasions. The men treated me very nicely, and they let me present a paper at Columbia once on my particular work on the high burn-out crystals, far from the theory that we were hearing from others. But I don't have any copies of that because it was secret! It's secret, and I never cheated. It was a matter of honor with us. We had Q clearance. That's the same clearance a president of the United States has. So I do not have any personal documentation.

Aspray:

What about other records that were produced in the Lab? What if you needed more personnel, or you needed equipment or you needed supplies, how would you go about that, and was there a paper trail of documents?

Strong:

I think there probably was. Everything was secure. We never even talked on the streetcar about where we worked. We went over and gave blood over in this area, and, "Radiation Lab MIT? What do you make?" "We make radiators." We treated this very seriously. I don't think we ever had constraints. When we needed something, I would tell Marvin Fox, and Marvin Fox would tell Jerry Wiesner or Jerry Zacharias, and we got it. So I don't know the purchasing process or anything like that.

Aspray:

Were there other documents — progress reports — that you had to prepare?

Strong:

We were singularly free of that. Whatever we did, we included in our current reports at the Columbia meetings. And Jerry Zacharias was around hanging over our backs, so if we'd had a particularly successful batch, he knew it about the same time we did.

Aspray:

He knew it right away.

Strong:

We didn't have to write a report. It was that informal and I think that was one of its strengths. You weren't strangled in paper.

Management Style

Aspray:

We've talked off and on about management of the Laboratory and the fact that there were good quality scientists up and down the ladder of the organization. Are there other things that you can tell me about the way that the place was managed? People tell me that it was a very effective and a very special organization. What would you set out as the management style, the management method, procedures, that enabled that to happen?

Strong:

I think it happened with its origin. It started small. You're not coming into General Electric. You're starting a General Electric, you see. So you don't have any traditions or hierarchies to deal with. It started small. People were humble about what they didn't know. Many of these people were not natural managers, but they learned to be or they found managers or good secretaries that could take care of that, while they were dealing with something else. There was no precedent. It was made up as it went along. Second, it had very bright people and very dedicated people. I think that was important. The loose organization and the lack of feeling of hierarchy made it possible that anybody could talk to anybody else in utter trust. I think those would be the managerial skills that I thought were evident. You couldn't see territoriality.

Aspray:

That's very unusual.

Strong:

Well, part of it was just rapid growth. Everybody got their little bit of the action and was devoted to it. But there was no question of anybody poaching or even suspecting anybody else was poaching.

Aspray:

Tell me about the relationship between staff and technicians.

Strong:

I think it was remarkable. I guess I was a tad defensive because I looked like a technician. I didn't have a long white beard. But they did not attend the Tuesday evening seminars. They had approximately our clearance, but we operated on the "need to know" principle. So if something was none of my business, I didn't ask. If I heard it in the seminar on Tuesday night, I felt free to ask. Some Monday mornings we would come in and someone wasn't there anymore. They would say that he had moved on to another project. As it turned out he had gone to Los Alamos. You never knew except the few code words: "He's on another project now." I don't even think they gave it the name "Manhattan Project." People just disappeared.

Aspray:

What would you say was the loss to the Manhattan Project?

Strong:

I'm not sure. I would maybe think 20 percent.

Aspray:

Twenty percent!

Strong:

It might have been that high because many of my friends that I knew later had been wives with kids who drove in cars with tires that didn't hold up all the way to this address in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and they didn't know what they were in for. But that percentage might be high.

Technicians and Wives

Aspray:

What was the training of the technicians?

Strong:

That depended on what the technician had to do. Our young woman came in, and we trained her. There was no point in sending her to a clinic school. Her needs were quite specific to our job. So we trained her to do just those skills of soldering and polishing and assembling and so on. Other people were trained in a little technicians' school or a radio repair school or something like that.

Aspray:

Did most of them have a high school education?

Strong:

Some had college. Our female technician had a high school education. Our man technician, who was the jack of all skills, had not completed college. Many wives with no technical training became technicians. They learned specific skills, but they'd not been trained in science.

Aspray:

Was it very common for husband-and-wife teams to both work in the Laboratory?

Strong:

If you ever come up on numbers like that, I'd be interested. Both could be working, but not both on staff.

Aspray:

Was one or the other in some support position?

Strong:

Good secretaries, that kind of thing. The need for person power was so enormous. Of course there were many women with small children, even with technical training, for whom this was not an option. There were not baby-sitters or day care or anything like that.

Aspray:

People were disrupted from their home environments. They'd been brought in from Illinois or California or wherever.

Strong:

Absolutely. One of the reasons I was very glad that we could both work there is we could talk to each other. I know many non-technical wives who said they just had no idea what Francis or Bill was doing all through the war. Whereas we had similar clearance, we could talk. That would have been a burden, it seems to me, on family relationships.

Aspray:

Were you responsible for the hiring, or was somebody just assigned to you? Did you interview people? Did you give specifications?

Strong:

I came as third person on the team. The technician we hired, we interviewed. We were such a small group, we had to be sure that we could live together in a space like this, week in and week out.

Aspray:

So you did have a chance then.

Strong:

I didn't have a commanding voice in it, but they were very good in terms of getting along.

Aspray:

Were particular skills sought in the person that was hired?

Strong:

I think good physical coordination because it was delicate work, and that's why it was a woman. The jack-of-all-trades technician was very good about the manufacturing processes: how many people know how to silver-plate with cyanide? We were lucky in having him before I came up. But I think the skills sought were compatibility and physical finger dexterity. We were very fortunate. She was a very good technician. I don't think that there was all that much difference in staff and technician. You didn't know who had a Ph.D. or who'd been an anthropologist, unless it came up over lunch sometime. So that rank was not important. One of the interesting little groups is that they hired 25 girls out of the senior class at Dorchester High School to be our mail girls. They didn't finish their senior year at Dorchester. They went to work for the war effort. They were so cute. I was only five years older, but they were so cute, and some of them had the most sloppy shoes. We could hear the mail girl coming. But that was a whole variety of people. We had machine shop persons, electronics persons.

Aspray:

Was there much movement of staff from one operation to another? Or did people just become specialized and stay where they were?

Strong:

No. If there was a need and you had the skills, you might be moved. I think you would be given an option. I don't think there was anything too high-handed. I think they slightly high-jacked some of the people for Los Alamos in a nice way. But the lower echelons saw some mobility too. I started in Group 53, but I ended up in 71. And I took a radar to Ceylon was the kind of mobility you saw.

Postwar Life

Aspray:

Let's talk about your own personal career and how the Rad Lab experience affected that.

Strong:

The war affected it because I was planning to get a doctorate in biochem before the war came about, and it seemed getting married became a very important priority at that time. It affected my life greatly in that direction. I remember when I was a senior. Del Heard in the chemistry department at Pitt came to me, and he says, "Miss Porte, they're going to come up here and interview. They're interviewing for chemists at Eastman Kodak in Tennessee." And I said, "Oh?" And he said, "Marvelous positions. You cannot believe the kinds of salaries that they offer" I think they were paying him about as much as an assistant professor as they were paying all those recently graduated chemists down at Eastman Kodak. I indicated that I had heart interests that would keep me in Pittsburgh. So for me I chose to have a child when his father was in China, taking a Li'l Abner radar set there. In those days that pretty much stymied my career. Not too many families can support two Ph.D. graduate students and a child at the same time.

So that's the road not taken. We had three children, and by the time the third one was born and five years old, we were living in Schenectady, New York, and I had done all the volunteer work, and all the AAUW work, and the whole schmear. I thought, now, I've got to use this technical training I've had. What fits? So what fit was preparing to teach secondary science. I commuted to Albany State University and took a master's there and got my certification. I have been teaching off and on ever since. I've taught high school chemistry, biology, physics. At one time Roger moved from G.E. Research Lab to NIH, and wives followed. I understand two strong career persons these days have a terrible time, sort of split marriages. My career was not just a second job. I was a good teacher, and I was a devoted teacher. So I followed along, and in Maryland I taught, and I became supervisor of secondary science for Montgomery County schools. I taught at the university a year. I was in and out of graduate school.

The time wasn't right, we had family illness. The time was never right. At least the excuses are there. So I never did the doctorate. Roger and I divorced about ten years ago. We had a family tragedy; the marriage didn't survive. I continued to live independently. We're friends now. Well, we always have been. We would not be less than friends for our family. So I came here to Schenectady where my daughter was living to help her with her twins, and my long-term friend, Herbert Strong, whom I'd known 40 years. His wife and I had gone to graduate school together, commuting together. We met again, and he was a widower, and he asked me to marry him. So I have been living in Schenectady. I've been teaching in a very fine high school there, Niskayuna High School. I ended up department chairman. I've done department chairman and the whole bit.

Then about two years ago I retired for the fourth or fifth time, and Union College picked me up because they have re-instituted their Master of Arts in Teaching program. So I am currently adjunct professor, which means "gofer." The vocabulary is different, the functions are fairly close. Our graduate students have no pedagogy. They have strong undergraduate majors but no pedagogy. The program is a year and better. We're experimenting with that — 18 months. They start a week after graduation in what they lovingly call boot camp. They have eight weeks of curriculum and methods, and they have psych. Then the day before the first day of school — they start into a full-year, half-day internship in their field. I have five this year. I have two in physics, one in chemistry, one in earth science, and one in biology. The sad thing is only one of them has yet gotten a job. And these are top flight! They're not all young; two of them are making career changes. One of them is a graduate engineer from Brown who worked for Eastman Kodak as an engineer for four years and decided that wasn't what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. And another woman who had a geology undergraduate degree and decided she didn't want to work for the Red Cross the rest of her life. So that's where we are now.

Women and Social Life at Rad Lab

Aspray:

Is there more to be said about women at the Laboratory? You've talked about the way you were treated as a 22-year-old.

Strong:

They didn't treat me condescendingly, but they took good care of me in New York and I needed it. I was just not sophisticated about getting around, and many of them had done work at Columbia. So they just took care of me on that.

Aspray:

Were there other women that were on the technical staff?

Strong:

Very few. There were fewer of them as staff than technicians. I didn't know very many. But then in my day there weren't all that many women in my math classes or my chemistry classes. One of my very best friends was my lab partner, and our friendship has just gone on forever. But not at the Lab. This was in college. We were not even little pockets. There weren't even little pairs of us. We were singletons. There were other women there, but they were technicians. That's not a putdown. It just meant that they couldn't go to the Tuesday night stuff, and we couldn't talk about some of the stuff. I'm sure that many of the technicians knew an awful lot. I don't know what their clearance had to be. The men treated me very nicely. They were very kindly to me. I felt no discrimination. My only regret is that I did not finish a doctorate, for my own personal satisfaction. It's not an ego trip. I felt I had something, but I picked different patterns. I've seen one woman who is a friend here. That's all I've seen of the people who were in the Lab. Of course there weren't too many.

Aspray:

Are there other things that you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed?

Strong:

It was a very interesting and yeasty time. In Cambridge yesterday, I did the nostalgia bit and walked past the old apartment house we lived in for three years and realized it was one of the happiest times in my life. You know, 22, 23 care-free, two salaries, no kids. The mechanics of life devolved on the women — the managing of rationing and shopping. If I was working 48 hours, and he was working 60, guess who did the work at home.

Aspray:

You did all those things.

Strong:

Yes. It just devolved, in a way. A lot of good friends. A lot of them are dead now, and that's also another surprise. But it was a rich experience.

Aspray:

Since you couldn't talk about things outside the Lab, and worked so many hours were most of your friends from the Laboratory?

Strong:

Yes. There was a small group of us who had been brought up church-going people, and we felt that as a loss in our lives. There was a group — and we were motley, Presbyterians and Episcopalians and Methodists and Baptists and so on — but we found a home away from home in the Central Square Congregational Church. There was a young couples club, and they were all Lab people. That provided us with a social group when we had time to socialize. It involved bike trips and learning to sail here on the Charles, and Symphony Hall and Boston. We could get tickets for the theater through MIT. No baby-sitters. It was a very nice and carefree time.

Aspray:

Thank you very much.