The First Lady of Physics

When her ocean liner, the President Hoover, docked in San Francisco in 1936, Wu Chien-Shiung was surprised to find that discrimination against women was par for the course in the United States. She was told that female students at the University of Michigan, where she was soon to begin as a doctoral student, were not even permitted to use the front entrance of a brand-new student center; they had to scuttle quietly through a side door. It was a problem the “First Lady of Physics” would run up against again and again: when UC Berkeley refused to hire her despite an outstanding performance as a student and researcher, when Columbia University took eight years to promote her, and when the Nobel Prize in physics was given to her two male collaborators for their work in parity nonconservation but not to her.

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