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Swoboda, Marian J.; Roberts, Audrey J. / Wisconsin women, graduate school, and the professions

Barnes, Bette; Dickie, Ruth
Chapter 2: Women in science: sketches of Sigma Delta Epsilon members,   pp. 13-20

Page 13

2. Women in Science
Sketches of Sigma Delta Epsilon Members
by Bette Barnes and Ruth Dickie
Sigma Delta Epsilon: The Beginnings
On 4 October 1921, a group of twenty-two women working in science
departments of the University of Wisconsin formed a science club for gradu-
ate women with master's or doctor's degrees who were engaged in ex-
perimental research in the biological, physical and mathematical sciences.
Ruth Chase Noland, in January 1977, writes of those days. "My recollec-
tions of the beginning of Sigma Delta Epsilon are not very clear. In the
following World War I the men slowly returned to the campus. During their
absence there had been quite a build-up of women graduate students, and
after the men came back and were active in Gamma Alpha and Phi Sigma, we
began to think that the women needed some means of getting together and
sharing interests. Thus somehow almost spontaneously a group formed a
science club with the idea that women from various fields of scientific re-
search should share their knowledge with one another. Later we heard of the
Cornell group doing the same thing and eventually joined with them. Of
course at that time Sigma Xi took women into that organization, but it was
honorary and they usually were not admitted until late in their graduate
so this did not serve the same purpose as our club.
"Many were the organizational meetings we held. Some of the women
wanted it to be a closed secret society like a social sorority; others wanted
society to be open to all women who were doing research in science, and
what was worked out was a compromise. There was really a great deal of de-
bate over the local constitution. In the early years the ballot for new members
was secret and two blackballs would keep an applicant out. I can remember
only one occasion where this was used and many of us were distressed by
At the Toronto meeting of the American Association for the Ad-
vancement of Science (AAAS) in December 1921, representatives of the
science club met with members of a similar group formed in April 1921, at
Cornell University. They hoped to form a national organization for women
with the object of furthering interest in science, providing a society for
tional recognition of women in science, and bringing women together in fra-
ternal relationship. After this meeting Cornell incorporated the national
ganization of Sigma Delta Epsilon (SDE) with itself as Alpha Chapter. Mean-
while, in January 1922, eleven more women joined the science club at
Wisconsin and, on April 25, 1922, this science club with thirty-three mem-
bers was installed as Beta Chapter.2
Mrs. Noland's recollections continue. "The meetings were in various
places, and I believe they were twice a month up till World War II. We met
Lathrop Hall parlor, and in the YWCA - a frame building on the lake shore
where the Union is now. It had a cafeteria in the basement, and we took our
trays into a small room and ate together. Not all our meetings were at meal
times. I remember talks being given in the fourth floor seminar room of Birge
Hall, at that time known as the Biology Building.

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