From the time I was quite young – perhaps ten years of age– I have been enthralled by the way the world works, and I wanted to be a scientist, initially an astronomer. Sometime later – perhaps around age thirteen – I also wanted to become a writer. I struggled with this dual avocation until time to enter college, at which point it became fairly clear that scientists were likely to earn a better income than writers. Since I loved science anyway, I could do that without compromising any inner principles or desires by choosing science over English. Moreover, it seemed that writing could be an avocation, something I might dabble in while working as a scientist.

I did well in science courses in college and received an NIH fellowship to study anatomy at the University of Michigan, where I obtained the M.S. Then the family moved to Syracuse, NY, where my husband had received a stipend to study economics. Eventually, I returned to graduate work in anatomy at S.U.N.Y. Upstate Medical Center and earned the Ph.D. in 1969. I was the only female graduate student in the two departments where I did graduate work. Still, I did well and was respected by peers and most of my professors.

As I was looking for a job during the last year of graduate school, things seemed to become complicated. I only had a couple of interviews, and those were at less prestigious institutions than male cohorts who had not done as well as I had academically, despite the fact that my work was in electron microscopy, the cutting edge of anatomy in the 1960s. One chairman I was introduced to asked bluntly, “What do you think the future of a woman in anatomy would be?” When I replied, “It should be the same as the future of a man,” he snorted and turned away.

I decided to do a post-doctoral fellowship with a research pathologist at Temple University in Philadelphia, investigating the biochemistry of cell replication. So I postponed taking an academic job, hoping that the additional expertise would enhance my value to a future medical school employer.

This training did help me land a job in research pathology, working with Dr. S.S. Spicer, a world renowned histochemist, who had just relocated from NIH to Charleston, SC. The five years in Sam Spicer’s lab were collegial and wonderfully productive. It eventually became clear, however, that unless I found a job in an anatomy department, I would remain a research assistant with little autonomy, regardless of academic title.

By an odd conjunction of circumstances, a job came open in the anatomy department at the medical university, and I was hired by Dr. W. Curtis Worthington, who just yesterday celebrated his 90th birthday. The following is a note of gratitude I wrote to him and inserted into his card.

To W. Curtis Worthington, Jr. on his 90th Birthday

The first few years I lived and worked in Charleston were lucky ones for several reasons. Two of those reasons were the very fine bosses I worked with during that time—Drs. Sam Spicer and Curtis Worthington—men whose character included kindness, integrity, and a love of learning.

I am indeed grateful to Curtis Worthington for hiring me as an Assistant Professor of Anatomy at the Medical University of South Carolina, and for promoting me to Associate Professor the following year. Although Curtis left the helm of the department not long afterwards for duties in upper-level administration, he continued to be involved in departmental functions, including some teaching, as well as its famous Christmas party.

Not too long after I joined the department, Curtis and I created an inter-disciplinary graduate course on the History and Philosophy of Science, sparked by a conversation we had at a meeting of the American Association of Anatomy. The course ran for several years, enjoyed by students and lecturers alike,  both inside and outside the university. This course was an example of a shared impulse: If you see a problem, you should try to fix it. In his manners and his willingness to serve others, Dr. Worthington embodies the best traits of a southern gentleman.

I owe a great deal of my success in research as a histochemist to Sam Spicer, and I credit much of my academic career as professor of anatomy and cell biology to Curtis Worthington. Both of these men were ahead of their time in valuing the contributions of women in the sciences. I will always be grateful to them.


“Woman teaching geometry”

Illustration at the beginning of a medieval translation of Euclid’s Elements (c. 1310 AD)