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Interview of Bertha Swirles Jeffreys by David Howie on 1997 March, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/31926
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Topics discussed include: Jeffrey's education at the University of Cambridge; Cecilia Payne Gaposchkin; Werner Heisenberg; Paul Dirac; Erwin Schrodinger; Douglas Hartree; Kapitza Club; her research in quantum theory; Maria Goeppert Mayer; George Gamow; Edward Milne; Lev Landau; her husband Sir Harold Jeffreys and his work.
Bertha Swirles, Lady Jeffreys, I should start by saying a copy of this interview will be deposited with the American Institute of Physics library. Are there are any conditions you would like for people to listen to it or quote from it? Presumably they should contact you if they want to quote.
Well let’s see what comes out first, I can’t think there is anything that they cannot quote. No, what, well I won’t say that, perhaps they had better contact me.
Well, so as I was mentioning I thought we could start with perhaps you would like to say a few words about, you were here at Cambridge of course in the 20s and you did a PhD in Physics.
I came up in ‘21 and read from the Mathematical Drypers [?], and got a first in part two and a B, but not a star. And then I went on to do physics part II, but I only stuck two terms of that. It was a rather grim course in those days. We spent three days a week, Monday, Wednesday, Friday was practical. It is called demonstrations I see in the lecture list, but we made our own apparatus and I broke more ammeters than you would believe possible. And I wasn’t very happy. However, I went to some very good lectures. But I fell ill in the Easter vacation, came back too soon, and well, it was decided I had better not go on and take part II physics. I had already got my degree. And I applied for various things, a Yarrow studentship at Girton. So off with the Yarrow, gave Girton £20,000 to be used up capital and interest in 20 years, and there were fellowships and studentships. And the money ran out in twenty years, and immediately he had said, somebody else will give you it then, and they did. It really was miraculous almost. And also I had £100 a year from the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, which would now be, oh, something different anyhow, but a government grant, which was for two years only because you see the PhD was really very new at that time. Some universities you could get it in two years; Cambridge you needed three. I had to borrow for the third year.
Did you then switch to physics, or was that part of the tripos system? Was it common for mathematicians to...?
Not altogether common, but Mary Taylor, who taught me, had done that. Cecilia Payne had read natural sciences all through. That is it more or less, I think. I was always very much inclined to the applied side of mathematics and there is an awful lot of applied in the Cambridge mathematical tripos. Though, oddly enough, I did some pure subjects for schedule B. I think I was badly advised over that, but still...
What were the options if you would have remained in mathematics, what did people tend to do? Did they go out and stay in academia or did they move on to the civil service or something?
Well, one could not have gone on at mathematics. I mean there was Bob Gabriel, Philip Hall, who were my other mathematical contemporaries. Well, actually, in 25 I still went to see Rutherford to ask about going on to research and he said, “They tell me you are not much good at experiments. You had better go and see Fowler.” So I went to see Fowler and he accepted me, and he wrote on the back of an envelope that I was to work on something, ideas of Heisenberg. Heisenberg had visited Cambridge that summer, he had given a lecture to the Kapitza Club, and I have got the minutes of that now, and he threw out an idea at the end of his talk, which was not actually on the birth of quantum mechanics, but what he said alerted Dirac, who thought about it. I think he went home to Bristol still thinking about it. [Bell sounds; interview continued later] Well that is all in Dirac’s recollections of an exciting era. There isn’t very much about that in Cassidy’s Life of Heisenberg, about his visit here I think but he certainly was here during that summer.
Did you attend his talk?
You must be kicking yourself that you didn’t?
No I am kicking other people. [Laughs] No, well anyhow I hadn’t started research then but I was not a member at the Kapitza club, and I was not a member of Delta Squared V but let bygones be bygones. I ought to have — I think if I had said to Fowler, you know, I ought to be allowed to come to these things, but I was the only woman physicist around at that time, practically, and well, one kind of accepted it. These were evening meetings; the Kapitza club may have been by invitation. The minutes of that — well, that was past, but the speaker wrote them himself I think, and Heisenberg added his photograph. They are really quite amusing. They are kept at Churchill College, though that didn’t exist in those days, but Cockcroft was a great friend of Kapitza’s. The Kapitza’s house was over the road, you know that. I don’t know if either of the sons are here at present, they come at intervals. What was I saying? Well then, that was 25, oh yes, Fowler said that I had better go and see Douglas Hartree, and I set off along Trumpington Road and asked somebody for Mr. Hartree, which Hartrees did I want, and I said I supposed it was the younger one. Douglas Hartree’s mother was the first woman Mayor of Cambridge, and they lived in a big house in Newton Road, and the Hartree’s had a house in Bentley Road that their family had had built for them so that it was in full view of the railway line, Douglas had a passion for trains, and I set off there and went to see him. And I remember being terribly pleased shown into their main room with two pianos in it; Elaine was a very good pianist. He was extremely helpful. He gave me a whole lot of notes on theory of spectra, which I knew very little about, I must say, but I worked at them during that long vacation.
What in fact was the suggestion that Heisenberg made that set you off?
I don’t know — it didn’t set me going. It didn’t come off, but I think that is fairly normal, isn’t it, that what you are supposed to be working on is... What I caught on to was much more Schrodinger, but my first paper was pre-quantum mechanics, you see. My first paper was on polarized abilities of atomic pause, and it was something that Hartree had thought of doing himself. He was the most generous man in the world, and he thought I could do that, and I did. Fowler didn’t have — Fowler was not then a professor of course, he was then — Fowler was a Fellow at Trinity and I used to go and see him in his rooms in Trinity; I think we all did. The other people that were around were Arthur Gaunt, Bill McCrae [?], well I think they were a year after me but certainly — We had no common meeting place except the very small library in the Old Cavendish, which was, well, I suppose, quite a useful library for a theoretical physicist, but we also used the university library of course. The university library was in the old schools, and it was desperate. I mean a whole lot of stuff in the basement you had to go to. It was most, well, urgent need to have a larger building. But then you see the Heisenberg, Dirac, and Schrodinger papers came out pretty well ding dong, and Schrodinger was easier to understand, for me anyway, and that is what I got on to. Well his first paper, Dr. So [?] made me read it to the — that was in the [???] also, to a meeting of the Philosophical Society, and I remember Gaunt and Oppenheimer were there, and Oppenheimer had also had a paper in the same number and he refused to read his.
Do you know why?
No, I don’t know. But he didn’t. But, so he bullied me. He was a great character, very much against the admission of women to full membership. One of the kindest of men, one of the most helpful in the long vacation after I took mathematical tripos, I went to his lap and he really was very helpful. Oh yes, a friend of mine who had read Natural Sciences said he is all right if you stand up to him, and he was a bit cranky, believed in faith healing and that sort of thing, but wonderful experimenter, and devisor of experiments for undergraduates. Now where have I got to?
You are reading up the Schrodinger.
Reading of the Schrodinger papers.
Can you recall what the subject of the paper was about, what you had started working on, the Schrodinger work?
Well, I got very interested in the photoelectric effect, and then I heard Ellis talk about internal conversion of gamma rays. And I went to Fowler and said one ought to be able to do this like the photoelectric effect, and so I did. Unfortunately, I did it non-relativistically, and it needed rev for heavy atoms, it needed doing relativistically, and my results didn’t agree. But later on, using more or less my formulation, Mott got onto it, Mott and Hume and Harold Taylor produced rather better theories of it, and I sort of lost touch with that subject I’m afraid. That was my Ph.D. dissertation mostly. Well quite a lot about the photoelectric effect which wasn’t original but it was pretty new by then. If you were a Cambridge graduate you had to have two years residence in Cambridge for a Ph.D., and then you could go away, so in the winter of ’27, the autumn of ‘27 I went to Max Borne for the winter semester. And that, well, [???]. Elsasser had finished his Ph.D. that spring so that reading that his “Memoirs of a Physicist” is very interesting because it is almost parallel to what I was.
How did you find it working with Borne?
Well, I wouldn’t call it working with Borne. I went but there were a lot of people of there, I mean in Vienna [?], Von Neumann used to come from Berlin, Heitler — no, Borne was badly asthmatic and he was always hopping of to St. Anton, because that was high up, and so I didn’t really see an awful lot of him. He gave me quite a good reference when we got back. But it was a very good experience really. I had no money, practically, and my family said what are you going to do, and I said I could live in a garret. But actually Mary Taylor, who taught me at Girton, was a research student with Courant in Girton and she encouraged me to go there too. And she, oh yes, had arranged for Maria Gerbherdt [?] to come to Girton for a term. But then when Maria went home her father, who was a professor of pharmacology I think, had died, her mother had a big house and she was letting it to paying guests. So I went there, and when I sent my family a photograph of this rather palatial house they were amused at my garret, and I was in the — I had the top floor to begin with, and then Hans Leby [?] wanted to come, so he had the top floor and I had a single room, which was very comfortable, on the first floor. First floor British, second floor American, and it was really quite comfortable. And I ate at a Mittagstisch down the road with a funny mixture of people. But Maria Gerbherdt of course married, I can’t remember his first name, Meyer, and they had a joint Nobel Prize many years later. Maria was a good physicist. She was a good deal younger than I was. And I used to trot down to the institute most days, I think.
Were you working on an experiment there?
No, no. Experiments were not safe in my hands. No, I was still working on the internal conversion was still something to do. Of course in a very primitive sort of way. I mean, no computers or anything.
You mentioned Borne wasn’t around often. Did you have much to do with any of the other people that were there?
One thing I did have was that Courant wanted to learn to dance and so any woman that was around was roped in and we had a dancing class. There was Courant, Neugerbar [?], who was not Jewish but I think he went to Denmark, Levy — no, did Levy? Well anyhow, Wigner, and who was the other one... it will come back to me. Neugerbar was a historian of science later on. Anyway. Wigner of course was Dirac’s brother-in-law eventually. He has died now hasn’t he? He didn’t come for the memorial for Dirac. I remember then Lindsey said he’s naughty. But he was just about my age I think. Oh, Van der Wagen who of course was an algebrasit, but very much mixed up with physics. He used to say, “Das is dauber zehr befriedulind.” There were a lot of seminars and one thing or another. Hilbert and Courant lived around the corner from the Gerbherdts. I found it really more sociable in a way than Cambridge. Well at Cambridge you got your own college but I mean among physicists there was a really rather rackety party when the acry turned out to be Ash Wednesday but should have been Shrove Tuesday I suppose. And there was somebody called Enos E. Witmar, not to be confused with Wigner, and he gave a talk on the symmetrical top, symmetrischer kreisel, so the party was called the skew symmetrical top club. And the more conventional novice didn’t stay until the end, but I gathered it got rather rackety towards the end. That was practically the last year that Gertingham was tolerable.
Mary Taylor stayed on after I’d come back to England and it was, well in ‘29-‘30 it was getting anti-Semitic. And you see, Elsasser was a research student at Sommerfeld in Munich and it was decided that he had better go to Gertingham because that is full of Jews and he would be all right there.
But you mentioned there was a lot of social interaction then?
Yes, well, there were a lot of lectures. Well it was partly eating at a Mittagstisch. There was a nice woman and her son, who was a theology student, and she wanted to read English for somebody, and you know, exchange German and she wanted to read the Forsythe Saga, and I can’t remember what I read with her. Frau Gerbherdt was very good at lending me German books, some of them really rather too touch but still... She was a very cultivated woman, she used to give me the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung too, which I didn’t realize what was brewing in that country. Oh dear no, they did complain a fair amount about the inflation. That had been worse than the war, I think.
Were any of the other physicists there interested in the political situation?
They may have been, but I don’t remember talking about it. No.
So it sound marvelous in the sense of a lot of great people doing physics and...
It was absolutely. Heisenberg said to Born, what is Heisenberg like; he was in Cambridge at the time I think. “Asweedoff wie ein baby [?].” Well he did too. And Harold, who knew me at that time, wrote to me that Heisenberg was there, and he said he was different from Dirac, which I took to mean he was rather more sociable. He was indeed. Of course he was a very good pianist. Yes, he was, and he was not in Girton, and Elsasser did come I’m sure to Girton just before I left. In the, well it was March 1st I know I had, well, I was applying for jobs by then, and I had applied for an assistant lectureship at Manchester and asked Volliver [?], he always preferred to be a referee, and he said, “I shall tell them to take you, shall I?” Hopeful. Arthur Milne who was a great friend of his was professor there then, so I thought it would properly work, but I got a summons for interview on the 1st March, and I had to leave earlier than I had meant to, and Frau Gerbherdt was very good about that. I think she found another lodger fairly soon, and it may have been Meyer who married Maria, I don’t know. And I left, well I suppose, about the middle of March and went back home, and mother met me in London, and I shall never forget, I don’t know why, it was on the steps of the National Gallery, and the view of London from there is really very thrilling. I know, Max Born had said to me you know the National Gallery is a very splendid gallery and I really didn’t know it very well. The Christmas vacation I wanted to meet Wensel [?] in Leipzig, so I went to stay there in a Kristiche Hospice, which was suitable for a young woman, and I went to see him thinking I was going to see an old bearded professor and we found we were just about the same age. He was just off to Paris for Christmas. He had been working on photoelectric effect. Timmer [?] used to say that he had met all the family of KB and Harold, which was quite something. Yes, I am very sorry I never met Kramas. I should have liked him I am sure, however that is by the way. I went to Leipzig and then I went on to a family in Dresden. My cousin Michael Stewart, who was later foreign secretary and ended up as Lord Stewart, had been there from Oxford. They had a connection with Oxford for undergraduates to go and talk German.
This would now be in 1928?
No, ‘27, this is Christmas ’27. And I stayed in this family and it was very nice and cozy, and hardly anybody spoke English. It was very good for my German. Four or five days, we pretty well — then there was New Year. There was a Dutch sister in law who spoke English, but on the whole it had to be German. They would sit round the table telling funny stories. And also Herr Belto [?] took me around quite a lot to picture galleries and so on. Dresden was a lovely city.
Then, up to Manchester.
When I came back, yes. I went to be interviewed at Manchester. Mary Taylor, Gertrude Stanley, and — I think there were eleven of us altogether. The rest were men, one of whom was Sidney Goldstein. Any they appointed Gertrude Stanley who was a pupil of G. H. Hardy at Oxford, and me, and Sidney Goldstein, to assist in a lectureship, but he wasn’t having that. He was already married with a son, well anyway he was married. He I think had a Fellowship with John Zidneyhow, or did he go to Gertingham that winter? Anyhow he didn’t come to Manchester until the year afterwards. Wonderful colleague. He taught me all about ediside [?] and openhouse sort of thing. Yes, yes it is very sad, he ended up at Harvard of course, and he suffered all his life from gout, and after his retirement he doesn’t seem to have done anything very much.
Did you stay in touch?
Oh yes. And I stay in touch with his daughter more than his son. She is married to a geologist in Helsinki. But she was here only the other day. And one of their daughters was a research student here, but then she got married and now she has three children I think. I know there is hope she will return. Sidney Goldstein was ‘the’ man about my time. He was a year junior to me. Very sharp. But of course he felt the troubles of the Jews very greatly. He went to Israel and to Heifer to the Teknion [?] and as a professor, he went to Manchester first and then he went— now this is after the war; I am skipping about rather. And he went as a professor, and then the head, whatever they call him, gout, and they made Sidney be what would be the vice chancellor here. It meant an awful lot of administration and he escaped to Harvard after a few years? Institute of Physics.
Future historians at this point. Who else did you deal with in Manchester? I suppose it would have been....
Ah, well, now I haven’t gotten to Manchester yet. Well, yes I had the interview in Manchester, and then I came back to Girton for one term to finish my PhD, and then that summer I was determined that my mother should see something of Germany, and yes, I should say my father died when I was two so that I owed a very great deal to my mother and we?we went by boat and train to Cologne and then we went by ship to Mainz down the river. And it was a very hot summer, and the boat was very, very slow. Anyhow, it is a good scenic trip. And then we went by train via Munich to a place called Tagenzee [?] for a week or so. And then we came back to Munich and met my mother’s oldest sister, and I had about a week with them there and we went to see the Magic Flute in the Residence Theater. And it is a funny — well I suppose that is still there. The seats were very high and they were very small and their feet didn’t touch the floor, so I am afraid I didn’t greatly enjoy the Flute the first time I heard it. And we went to Parsifeld [?], and that was more comfortable. And poor mother, we went to the marvelous science museum, and she had always wanted to see a planetarium, and of course she couldn’t understand the German. But explanations, and that wasn’t a great success.
This is in Munich, is it?
This is in Munich, yes.
Was it the Deutsche Museum?
Deutsche Museum, yes. What else did we do there? Well, anyhow, then we went to Nurenberg, and from there I abandoned the two old ladies — well they weren’t old; they seemed old then. And the waiter in the hotel was very worried because the young lady was going off by herself. And in fact I was going off to the Mathematical Congress in Bologna. This was the first time since the war that the Germans had been allowed to come. Harold went to the one in Toronto in ‘24 and the French wouldn’t have the Germans. Hardy was very indignant and wanted... anyhow, that is old history now. But our German friends were obviously very pleased to be coming. There wasn’t really very much for an applied mathematician or a theoretical physicist in that congress. There were six volumes of proceedings and I gave them to the Isaac Newton Institute, and of course I had always wanted to look things up in them, to see what happened. And Mordell, who was the pure professor at Manchester, was there with his wife and two children. Very unfortunate, they both died, and, yes, we stayed in the same hotel. Mary Taylor was there and Maria Gerbherdt and Van Der Wagen certainly, oh and some of the other Gertingham people. And then the conference finished up in Florence with George Burkhoff, Garret Burkhoff’s father, giving a talk in the Eperimia [?] on mathematics and art or something like that. And I stayed on in a little pensionia for a few days. It amuses me now, I was 25, and I trotted about Florence completely carefree. I don’t think one would now. Well, one would be more timorous I suppose. It was... what did I do in the evenings? I can’t think. But I went to all the usual places and fell in love with San Marco, lovely city. But... and then I came home, and I can’t think just what happened, but I still have a mental picture of my little suitcase, by that time which I had managed for about a month, sitting on the platform as I departed. Was it because it hadn’t passed the customs or something? Anyhow, the Cooks’ man said he would see that it came, and it did the next day, so that was no trouble. And then I went home and prepared to go to Manchester.
You were going to Manchester as a mathematician weren’t you?
Into the mathematics department yes. Yes, but we had... there was Mary Mordell, Igor Child, that was considered very funny because of the pub called the Eagle and Child, they were the older ones, and Bailey, who became professor at Bedford College, London, later on; Gertrude Stanley; I think that was the lot. And after appointing me, Milne had decided to go to Oxford. Well, he pointed at Oxford so I only had one term of him. His daughter, Meg Weston Smith, has for a long time been writing a life of him. You see, she was, yes, she was at the age to be sent to the States during the war, so she didn’t know her father very well when she was a child, but she has collected knowledge of him from all of us that she could. I haven’t heard from her lately. In fact I think I had a Christmas card, but that is all. Well, anyhow Milne went, and we had some very good people to teach. Leslie Howarth in the first honors year — up here the numbers were incredibly small of course — Leslie Howarth, who became professor at Bristol eventually; Rear Admiral Sir Charles Darlington; and there was another chap called John Mungee who asked a lot of questions and was very intelligent, not the sort that isn’t a very good examinee. Gertrude had them the first term and I had them the second term. Yes, Milne gave me what he called a really rather good class of third year honors physicists for methods of mathematical physics, oddly enough, and I was terribly bugged a little while ago when J. S. Hay, who became an FRS said he had still got the notes. He has had a — I lost touch again now. His wife had a stroke say ten years ago, and he insisted on having her nursed at home, and was carrying on very bravely, but he was losing his sight, you see, he wouldn’t be much younger than I am. He was in RRD, radio research, during the war and he became an FRS. And they were a bright class. They were all men, they took me absolutely for granted as far as I could tell, except that that Christmas my mother collected the post and she said, “Who do you know in Ashton-under-Lyme?” I said I don’t know anybody and there was a whole quantity of Christmas cards from this lot. What I have always remembered was a sun-dial; I count only the sunny hours, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday 12-1. But, we got on fine. And the physics department was also small, it was Bragg, R.W. James, Nuttall, a funny old chap called Bell, I suppose what was he, fifty perhaps. Brentano, Scott Dixon, yes, I couldn’t think of the second bit, yes. And Will Taylor, who was a crystallographer, who was an assistant lecturer probably at the same time. Well, they became very great friends. He eventually came here.
Did you have much to do with the physics department apart from teaching physicists?
Yes, well one was free of their tea room and I went to their seminars. In fact, I can’t remember whether it was the first term or the second, I have an [???]. Mott and the Hartrees had gone to Copenhagen, and Mott sent me either a postcard or a very short note that he had met a chap called George Gamow and he had a theory of alpha disintegration. And I must have had lost a paper, because I know I gave a seminar about that to the physics people. The mathematics of that is awful.
This would have been the quantum tunneling?
Yes, but many years later, a very many years later, I was lecturing on it and I had as a matter of fact corrected the English of Gamow’s book. Well, Fowler and Cappiza were editors of the Oxford series of monographs, you know, and he asked me to see to Gamow’s English, which was — Gamow was said to speak every language incorrectly, including Russian.
Did you ever meet him?
Yes, oh yes. He — well the first edition of what was it, Atomic Nuclear, was very slim and I plowed through his various mistakes. At that time beta decay was not understood. This is a bit later, really. And so he wanted to have a sort of skull and crossbones made of beta particles and alpha particles in the margin. But the Oxford Press wasn’t going for that, so there was just an asterisk or something to show you must be careful here. But also the way he did the connection formula, the connections in the theory of penetration of a potential barrier, was really awful. However, it worked more or less. I wrote a paper on that later on. Mott was very happy there in Copenhagen. I think he was there for the winter and then went to Gertingham for the summer, I am not quite sure. His autobiography is lying in the hall, as a matter of fact. There is a book with about fifty contributors coming out about Neville Mott. Ted Davis is bringing that out. I wrote mine straight away because I thought I had better get it done, and I haven’t heard anymore; I haven’t seen a proof or anything. Yes, we all took part in all of the examining. Of course they had terminal examinations, as well as the final and well, the yearly exams. The classes were all pretty small, from what I remember. And it, oh yes, that was one of the coldest winters I remember. The January and February were frightfully cold, and a friend of mine had married and was living in a flat in Dintsbury or Withingdon and they had an absolute iceberg in their bath and this would not happen in any country but England I think. I was just living along in digs then. Everybody, well most of the people, lived along a line from the university out towards Dintsbury, a string of so-called villages. And we all traveled on the tram, trams were — and of course Manchester would have terrible fogs at that time, so trams were better than buses. Safe because they stayed on the line. Igor was ill during that term, and he had had a really rather obstreperous class of engineers which were handed over to me and I was all scared, but I don’t know, they must have been chivalrous or something because they behaved quite nicely with me. We all had rather an assortment. We were apt to get some delectrums you didn’t really know about. My second term it was algebra, the assortment I really did not know very much, but I knew more than they did I suppose. And that was the whole Darlington lot. Darlington was eventually top in the examination. He was school master, and then he was top in the examination for the navy in the war for the Education Department. And Jack Jacobs, who for a time was professor of geophysics here, was second. I know his wife never forgave Darlington. But I do not suppose there was much between them. I saw Darlington, I suppose it must have been about ten or fifteen years ago, I was staying fairly near where they lived and he came over. He was a very good person. Well, where have I got to. Oh that summer, yes, well I came to Cambridge for the long vacation and I did a little bit of teaching in Girton. In those days, you see, there was the long vacation residence, and the Etonians, well and Newman, for many years were made to come up for three or four weeks. There were no regular courses. I mean the mathematicians. The natural scientists there were courses for, botany excursions, particularly which I enjoyed. But until I retired I managed to make them come up, but they were grumbling like anything: “we cannot get jobs if we have got to come up in the middle of June,” what was it July or August? And they stopped fairly soon after I retired. This, well, I mean it is taken for granted in the States, isn’t it?
That you work. That you earn money.
Yes, a lot of people do.
Well, it wasn’t at all in this country in my time but I wish it had been in England because I used to get bored at home. But it wasn’t assumed that you would find something to do. Well now of course they find it difficult to get jobs I think, but it’s different. And that is something. And then mother and I went to the Molven festival, this is really fairly historic. The Shaw plays and The Apple Cart is lying there we saw the first part, anyhow nearly first for performance of that and they did the whole act of Methuselah. This was rather strenuous theater-going, and the other one must have been Caesar and Cleopatra I think. I still see Caesar and Cleopatra at the theater in Gertingham in German. And also of course there were concerts. The Stadtpark had a series of orchestral concerts. Oh, and I heard Fritz Busch and Cirkin [?], I think before Cirkin was Fritz Busch’s — do I mean Fritz Busch — no I don’t. Adolph Busch and Cirkin.
This is Rudolph Cirkin?
Yes, Rudolph Cirkin has a son? Rudolph Cirkin and I are the same age; I didn’t realize that at the time. But there was somehow — however poor I have been I have managed to afford concerts I think, and there were lots of them in Gertingham. This series of chamber concerts and also, yes I remember very clearly Van Der Wagen dancing attendance on Emmie Nerhter [?], the algebraist, yes. Harold, I don’t seem to remember, but I am sure in ‘33 I met him, and he said they had sacked everybody in Gertingham, beginning with Emmie Nerhter. She went to Brenmar — of course in Gertingham she never received the appointment she should have done.
This is after, I suppose, Heller became Chancellor in 1933.
Oh yes, ‘33 was the occasion when it all happened. Yes, I was in London at Imperial College in ‘33 and I — well, somebody either Harold or somebody else met me at the RAS I think, and I had three years in Manchester as assistant lecturer. The appointments then were for three years in the first instance with a possible reappointment, and I was going to be reappointed, but I was not sure what was going to happen. So I didn’t stay on at Manchester. Bristol was really up and coming at that point, and William Hodge was an assistant lecturer there, geometer. But he had got a Commonwealth Fund Fellowship to America, so they wanted— well they were willing to have a geometer or somebody in theoretical physics, because Tindel was building up a very big theoretical physics department, well for those days, and so I got that. But it is terribly funny I think that I succeeded Hodge, because we couldn’t be more different in our interests. And then I only stayed there a year and was succeeded by Linfoot. Linfoot was an analyst when he went there, but he turned to be an authority on optical instruments. He was in the observatory here later on. Where was I? Oh yes, it must have been 1930, there was a terrible dustup at the Royal Astronomical Society between Eddington and Milne, the Eddington and Milne controversy, and I got interested in that. Milne by then was our external examiner.
Could you mention what the controversy was?
It was to do with stellar structure, and an assumption that Eddington had made that Milne said was wrong. I am afraid I can’t dredge that up off the cuff. It is all in the monthly notice, well not all.
And you were there when it was...
No, I wasn’t a fellow by then. No, it was the one occasion when G.H. Hardy took an interest in something that wasn’t pure mathematics. He became a Fellow with the IS for the purpose I think. Oh yes, there was an important paper of Fowler’s on an Emden’s [?] equation, and Hardy said that was the only paper that would live because that was pure mathematics. Fowler was a very good pure mathematician apart from anything else. He was the supervisor of everybody for a considerable time in Cambridge. There is a very good article in the Cambridge Review by Bill McCrae for a profile of centenary. We had a meeting in Trinity and a dinner for that. Well, the list published in the Cambridge Review was not complete, but Bill sent me his list, and it really is a very impressive list of people. Well, including Dirac and [???] like that. Dirac, I must say, meant when he came here to work on relativity under Cunningham. Did you know this? And Cunningham was not by then taking research students, and he came to John’s, but that is why he came to John’s because Cunningham was there, and he went to Fowler and said, and I believe it is true that he didn’t even know about the orbits. And he very soon did; it didn’t take very long, he was publishing very rapidly. He was two or three years senior to me that is all.
Did you have much to do with him?
I wouldn’t say that, no. I did show him something once and he said it was wrong, very politely, it was. Oh, yes, of course we knew him later on. He was — there was what appointment, it must have been in Yale, somebody we met, I guess it would have been in the ‘60s, who was collecting Dirac stories. The sort of thing is John Crooke as a junior Fellow sat next to him at Hall, couldn’t think what to say, and Dirac never began a conversation, and John said, “Cold, isn’t it?” and Dirac said, “How cold?” And that is fairly typical. Well everybody knows the one about that, that isn’t a question it is a statement. I don’t understand that line, that bit of prologue, that isn’t a question it is a statement. But he was really very, very, nice. I don’t think he was ever really happy in Cambridge. I think he was happier in Tallahassee later on. I went to his very first lectures in 1926. I should think there were about ten of us.
Was he a good lecturer?
He had the same style from the beginning I think, yes, it was the book roughly speaking, but oh yes, clear. That happened to be the year of the general strike but we had never taken any notice of that.
It was ‘26 or so?
‘26, yes. We went to Fowler who was reading Heisenberg overnight pretty well and producing it the next morning, and then we went to Dirac. There was Hartree, yes; I remember Hartree and somebody else, walking across second court and meeting Burnell I think, and what he said, “We have been listening to the great man Dirac.” And we had a memorial meeting after he died. Well we had several things, and some of us reminisced about him. Dirac is noted for being not very talkative. But of course he was very enterprising. He used to go to Russia; in fact he got into trouble for trying to come out by a different entrance by which he went in. Yes, you know they have now got a memorial to him in Westminster Abbey?
No, I didn’t.
Yes, when was that, a year or so ago. The story was there is a meeting with Heisen there at which Dirac said he didn’t believe in God and? in ‘30-‘31 and when he came from the meeting...
This is Milne?
Yes, Milne. In, must have been March I suppose, ‘31. I talked to him a bit about astrophysics, and he suggested that I should work out the opacity of a degenerate gas, and as a matter of fact, Chandra Sekar was already doing that. It was rather unlucky Chandra came I suppose about December 1930, just about the time that Fowler’s wife died, and then Fowler went away and handed Chandra over to Milne. Chandra had already done some remarkable stuff before he got here, however, Milne suggested that I should work up the opacity of a degenerate gas, and during that vacation I did it and sent it to him, and I had a rather apologetic letter what am I to do because Chandra has also done it. So what happened was Dirac communicated Chandra’s papers to the Royal Society and Milne communicated mine to the RAS, which I didn’t belong to at that point. And then I went on on that tack with a partially degenerate gas for some considerable time. I don’t think that partially degenerate gas is very good, but still. Have I seen the Royal Society obituary of Chandra? I don’t think I have yet.
I was going to ask you, this is something I assume that people must say to you a lot, and that is that physics must have been very exciting in those days.
I suppose there must be a tendency for people to think almost that previously there was more to do, but I imagine in those days there really was a genuine feeling of a great deal of things going on?
Oh yes. Well, particularly the Heisenberg, Dirac, Schrodinger outburst, as it were.
What did people think about that in Cambridge? Was it the sort of thing you discussed all the time and people were very excited?
Well, I don’t know about excited, but we knew it. You see the theory of spectra was in a mess, and it did clear things up so very much. And another person that shouldn’t be forgotten is Pauli. He wasn’t of course — it was the Copenhagen-Gertingham-Cambridge axis I should say in those days. Well, Pauli was in Zurich. But oh yes it was very exciting, but it didn’t get into the papers. Relativity has always caught on, has got publicity, but the quantum theory didn’t at that point. But those of us who were interested in it certainly found it very, well, I am afraid I thought that classical mechanics was really rather dull.
Can you remember there being a change in the way that people interpreted it, because you got involved before the Copenhagen interpretation had been laid down I suppose?
Well, I read the papers as they came out, you see, and it was new and exciting. Now, of course, there is — there were only a very few particles in those days, and now there are such a quantity of them. I can’t help feeling that perhaps some sort of Heisenberg will come along and mop it all up and make it a bit more aesthetically pleasing I should think.
Yes, talking about aesthetically pleasing, I noticed at the time a lot of people, especially Born, were writing, and giving very sort of philosophical almost mystic interpretations of the new work. What did you think about that?
Well I am afraid I don’t. I don’t understand that sort of thing very much.
Were people discussing that around you, or were they just getting on with the...?
They were mostly getting on with calculations and things, and I am afraid Dirac said it was a time when second class people could do first class work. There were so many problems that could be attacked using quantum mechanics, where before one used a lot of ad hoc assumptions, trying to put the thing together, but for a very considerable time it was very attractive.
So were people — did you get the impression that people were worried at least in Cambridge about aspects of indeterminacy and this sort of thing?
There was a lot of rubbish talked about indeterminacy, incidentally. I mean you have to state it mathematically, it seems to me. I remember hearing Charles Darwin, in a very good paper, a talk in Manchester that was, that things are always indeterminate; you never determine things. Harold agreed with this absolutely. I mean there has always got to be a standard error and the particular pq - qp business is something new, it is true, but people get all sorts of philosophical ideas out of it which I don’t think really belong for what my opinion is worth.
This is very interesting. I am also interested to know if you got the impression that around that time people in Cambridge were interested in the more philosophical things or whether they were just interested in getting on with the calculations?
Well, when you say people in Cambridge, who would that be? Fowler was primarily a mathematician, who else would there have been. Well you see, Harold obstinately kept on with geophysics. At his 70th birthday party Teddy Bullard said when everybody else was into atomic or nuclear physics Harold resolutely stuck to structure of the Earth and to the application of classical mathematics and mechanics to the Earth. Well, that was what he wanted to do, and I didn’t realize how important it was until a good deal later. You have to remember I was just a beginner. I can’t say I knew what — who else would there have been — And you see, I did not go to the evening clubs were things were discussed until — now that would have been January ‘31 I think, yes, I came and stayed with the Motts and Neville took me to the Kapitza club. But there was still no woman actually belonging to it. I really was perhaps rather nasty, but when Delta Squared V did admit women I wouldn’t belong. I said you have some other younger women, they need it, I don’t. But still — And then the Delta Squared V has died. That sort of club where people in different branches of the subject can make themselves understood to people in other branches has rather died, I’m afraid. Kapitza came back, when was it, well after the war anyhow and Schoenberg arranged a meeting for him in Keyes and a whole lot of us went and Kapitza said oh yes it can be done and he gave a very interesting talk. But the Kapitza club died without him to stimulate it. And Delta Squared V has died I think. As far as I know. But of course in those days we didn’t have a department. They say to me “what did you do?” When the department was started in ‘59, the applied mathematics and pure mathematics a little after that, I went to Australia with Harold in ‘59 telling people about quantum applied mathematics, and they said “what about pure?” and I said “no, not yet.” It is a funny set up rather, so it is and they are very, very overcrowded. So that nowadays they mix much more in the daytime and they don’t need this sort of evening meeting sort of thing. Which I think do not happen so much.
So you suspect that a lot of the discussion would have probably gone on at the evening meetings?
Yes, I do.
How about in your time in Gottingen when you were more a part of it?
Well I don’t remember anything philosophical there. No. You see, Wigner and Van Der Wagen were producing the group theory stuff; that was what was very much in the air at that time. It was more the application of mathematics, I don’t remember. But I shouldn’t have perhaps been interested.
It is often said that the more philosophical interpretations were really limited to Born and a few of his followers rather than as widespread as it has been supposed sometimes.
I think so possibly.
In this period you mentioned a little earlier that relativity was much more prominent.
Relativity sort of caught the public eye. I don’t say that they understood it, but...
I wonder if that was because of the prominence of Eddington’s expedition?
And Cunningham’s. Cunningham’s books on relativity were I think possibly earlier than Eddington’s — I am not quite sure about that — and they are excellent. And he lectured on it. But I don’t mean people that would understand the mathematics. The sort of general idea with the general public was more popular, and they hadn’t heard of the quantum theory.
Did you have any dealings with Cunningham?
Oh yes, but on a friendly basis. After the War, you see, he did very little, the first War I mean, he did very little research. He was a pacifist, and he did sort of agricultural work during the War, and when he came back I think the fire had gone out of him for research rather. But he was an excellent, absolutely first class lecturer. And my friend Isobel Sayers was President of the Girton Mathematical Club; that must have been in ’26. She invited him to come and talk, and we invited the Adams Society of St. John’s as well. And many years later I saw their minutes. You see there was no lighting along this road, no houses. And the complaints in their minutes about how they trenched out in the mud to Girton to this unknown destination, and they made a rare story of it, and we were relieved to find Mr. White and Mr. Newman and Mr. Jeffreys there. Oh, it was all so silly. And he gave a lecture on mathematics and morals which was published in the Mathematical Gazette after that. And the next year they asked me to talk to the Adams Society, and that was really a very super affair. They gave a number of us dinner and I talked to them about the de Broglie paper about particles and waves. I have still got it as a matter of fact; it is not too bad. That is not — by then I knew Neville Mott I think. Yes, that summer I met him, and he said were we going to ask them back, and I said I didn’t know because I wasn’t going to be there, so I don’t know what did happen the following year. On the whole we were all rather shy, the research students I mean, but Neville Mott was not. He always wanted to talk and he was in John’s, Gaunt was in Trinity. There weren’t very many, you see, at all. I know I keep emphasizing that, but...
You mentioned Dirac sometime earlier. What about some of these great men you have met in your time, Pauli and Thompson?
I have only met Pauli once, that was at a Galverhine [?], Die Deutsche Physicalische Gesellschaft in Gertingham, Pauli came up and introduced himself to me and... Which of course does happen in Germany much more. I mean a man will introduce himself to a woman, but I don’t know that I ever heard him lecture. The Cavendish has got his collected works, I must get hold of them, because of course he did the Pauli-Stoner scheme is very important, and people don’t seem to know about him quite so much. He died comparatively young. And he was not much in this country. Heisenberg came a fair number of times. Though I didn’t know J.J. Thompson, I went to his lectures.
What was he like as a lecturer?
Well I thought he was old, he was nearly seventy it is true! I seem to remember him with hands on the desk, leaning forward, rather sort of confiding. It was electric discharge through gases, 4:45 twice a week. I looked that up; I may have got them to look it up in the library. By then Katherine Chamberlain came from Michigan as his research student, and she was attached to Girton, and she found him rather difficult to catch, and I think by that stage he used to go to the lab sort of at lunch time. He was a bit difficult to catch. I can’t say I knew him, but he was a well-known figure around. He went on being Master of Trinity of course until the end, as they could in those days and as they don’t now, unfortunately.
You mentioned that you thought de Broglie was very pleasant.
No, I never met him.
Oh didn’t you? Perhaps I was thinking of Landau?
Oh, well, the summer of 1930 I went to Copenhagen for three or four weeks, and Gamow was there then and also Landau — oh Landau was a horror. He was very young then, and I can’t remember why I though he was a horror, but he really was rather tiresome. He got into trouble in Russia didn’t he later on? Anyhow, Landau [???] are very good books and so on. But yes, while I was there Fowler came and the Blacketts and Heisenberg. Copenhagen was really the center of the world for a bit. Well, I mean for quantum theory people.
Did you — while at Rutherford you must have had interactions with [???]
Well, apart from him telling me that I was no good at experiments and I had better go and see — Fowler was his son-in-law you see, and oh yes, Sir Alfred Yarrow who gave the money to Girton used to entertain all of us, somehow or another. And that must have been in the summer of ’28, he took me to lunch somewhere in Kingston, and then we went to the Royal Society Visitation of the National Physical Laboratory. And he had given the tank for testing ships, so we spent most of the time there, and I remember Rutherford was president of the Royal Society at that time, so I spoke to him then I suppose. Sir Alfred was a really remarkable. There is a life of him that is quite good. Well of course one heard Rutherford, you couldn’t fail to. There was an occasion when, it must have been ‘28 also; there was an international meeting of some sort in the Cavendish, and it must have been at that, it couldn’t have been any other time, I think. Rutherford and J.J. were both standing behind the bench, and I distinctly remember J. J. saying, “Professor Rutherford says he stands for the alpha particle. I stand for the electron.” And, you know, their relative masses were not the same, but I mean Rutherford was much bigger. It was really quite funny. Well I have got Lord Raney’s life of J. J. lying about.
Didn’t you meet Einstein?
No, I missed Einstein’s lecture here and I missed it in Manchester somehow. I think both places have a blackboard where he drew a circle, but no, no I never heard him, sorry.
I thought perhaps you might be willing to say a few words about your experiences at Cambridge as a woman physicist, because I imagine there could have been very few of you at that time.
Well yes, you see, I grew up in a family of women and I took it for granted that women did things. I am afraid I am rather often heard to say, “Now is this 1997 or 1927?” because there aren’t a great many more. Well, there was Mary Taylor, who had gone away by that time, and me, but I didn’t meet any opposition, except the fact that I didn’t belong to the clubs where certain things were going on, and I was rather shy, having grown up in a family where there were hardly any men, I think. And of course, my first term as an undergraduate they voted to give women titular degrees and not to give them full admission. And Harold was quite — that was a vote from MAs all over the country, and Harold was quite sure that if it had been a vote of people working in the university it would have gone quite differently.
Well, I noticed that he was interested in changing the voting system direction, wasn’t he?
Oh yes I showed you that, didn’t I. Oh, he was always very keen on giving — He had been at a coeducational school in Newcastle, which later split into two and is now coed again, it is rather odd. Yes, he was top of his form and the girl was second, sort of thing. But he did rather take it for granted. He was an only child and I was an only child, and so he hadn’t had a great deal of contact with other children.
So did you feel that you were treated any differently when you were here at Cambridge?
Well, I knew I was not in things to the same extent.
I suppose the way you were taught was different simply because you were taught through the college which was a woman’s college.
The year I came up Miss Caper was the director of studies, had found four pure young men. She was applied. And they were Charles Burkill, Albert Ingham, Parrs, and Francis, of whom you won’t have heard, well you may not have heard of the others. But the others were all very good, well I think, Burkill and Ingham were FRSs later on. Parrs wrote a tremendous work on dynamics. Francis, who in a way was the best of the lot, was very evangelical and went out to Africa partly as missionary, partly as professor. I always remember his lectures at that Peterhouse were absolutely first class on complex variables.
Did you attend the lectures in other colleges or did you...?
At first, yes, we were the first year practically that was being encouraged to go to lectures in other colleges. We went to Stratton on optics and hydrostatics. I had no idea how distinguished Girton was by that. I mean, you can imagine, it is not a very exciting subject, particularly the hydrostatics. And then the next term we went to Bromwich, and that was in one of his lucid intervals, and it was very good. It was a — and we went to — Pollard and the two of them did not retain their sanity. Pollard gave a very good course on analysis. And then May term we went to G.P. Thompson in Corpus where he tried to — that was on electricity of magnesium [?] and he tried to do experiments and a college lecture room is not really set up for experiments. However, that autumn he went to Aberdeen as professor. I don’t seem to remember the later lectures quite so well. Oh, yes, we went to lectures, that were mostly in other colleges. Eddington lectured in the art school and so did Hobbson. I don’t know — anyhow they did.
And how about tutorials, were they given by Fellows at Girton or were other people brought in?
Well these Burkill and [???] lot were what in Cambridge is called supervision, and all of the rest of the world calls them tutorials. Oh yes, we had Mary Taylor twice a week I think, yes, and Burkill twice a week, that is our first term I certainly remember. And we did written work for them, and we learned a lot.
How many, approximately, have you an idea of the ratio of women to men in the whole science of mathematics at that time?
Well, I worked it out a little while ago. Yes, that was a better interview. Professor Forvell [?] of the Open University had a program on Women in Mathematics, and I did, I was interviewed for that. He and Amanda Chedwin [?], who a lecturer in Lancaster, and that went fairly well, and I worked it out then and the ratio is not vastly different from now I think. I don’t know what is wrong with the girls. This is mathematics I am talking about really, and they tend to go more towards pure mathematics than theoretical physics or applied. There are several in the AMTP. There is a Reader and the MAYDR [?], but it is not very many.
I noticed some reading from Pennina’s [?] work about Dorothy Wrench, and it seems as though she had a bit of a rough deal in terms of getting positions because she was a woman she was unable to get anything.
Well Pennina wouldn’t diminish it would she?
No of course not.
I’m sorry — wash that out.
But did you experience anything similar to her?
Well, I reckon I became a lecturer at Manchester by when I was 30, and that wasn’t bad for those days, and that was for three years into the retiring age. You don’t get that now. I stayed there until I was 35, and then I was invited to come back to Girton and I came back rightly or wrongly. And then the war came and then I got married, so I stayed.
Dorothy, Dorothy Garrald [?] yes.
And the whole thing became ridiculous. And it was due to a group of men that this situation was regularized and it went through extremely quietly, and no demonstrations on the — The whole attitude had changed, really, considerably. Of course, the colleges becoming mixed had not gone completely smoothly. At Maudlin, which was the last, some of the men went about wearing black armbands and so on. My cousin’s granddaughter, who was one of the first women, had a marvelous time there.
When about did that go mixed, Maudlin?
It must have been about ten years ago, I think; it was fairly late.
Well I thought we could possibly move onto talking about your husband, who was Sir Harold Jeffreys, an eminent geophysicists and also did work in probability theory. He started as a mathematician. How did he get into geophysics from that?
Well, he got a degree at Armstrong College, Newcastle, which was then part of the University of Durham. And from there he got a scholarship to St. John’s, and so he went through the regular mill at St. John’s and he was a wrangler with a star in Scheduleby [?] in 1913. And his first papers — wait a minute — well, some of the early papers are on ecology, but that was just the [???]. The first papers are on photography and dipping sodium sulfite in solution. Well that doesn’t matter. Yes, the really fat paper published in 1915 is “Certain Hypothesis as to the Internal Structure of the Earth and Moon.” Well, it was a classical astronomy, you see, and Viscosity of the Earth, “Certain Possible Distributions of Meteoric Bodies in the Solar System.” Actually we were both, I think, put onto astronomy by Sir Robert Bulls’ Story of the Heavens, I mean that is some way back, and also, I have got his lecture notes. He went to Eddington’s lectures. And Herman, various things that were — That was still a matter of interest, I mean the dynamics of the solar system. And that is how he got interested in it, and then the compression of the Earth’s crust in cooling. Then he was interested in elasticity, and that is how he became a geophysicists.
What was the audience for geophysics at that time? Who was interest, for example were...?
Well he was.
He was, but were oil companies or more applied groups interested in results?
I don’t think he was concerned with them at all.
So it was a very [???]
As a pure scientist, and then, you see, during the war he went to the Meteorological Office as Sir Napier Shaw’s assistant, and some of that was classified, presumably. But I think he was open to do his own thing as well. He kept his Fellowship; he lived in digs in London and came to college at the weekends. But that gave him a further interest, of course, in geophysics. And the cyclone stuff must have come out of that. By ‘21 he was on to certain geological effects of the cooling of the Earth. 1920 Turbulence in the Ocean. He was doing a lot of papers on his own, even though he was supposed to be doing Napier Shaw’s stuff.
And, in fact, throughout his life he published mainly on his own.
Yes, he was a loner. He and Bob Stonley were really very good friends. Stonley was a year or so junior to him, and he did a lot of very fundamental work. The Geophysical Journal International had a memorial number to Bob Stonley, well, for his centenary. John Hunter, who did write one paper with Harold if not more, organized that. Bob died in ‘76 I think, well before Harold. He was in Leeds for a time, and then came back and was a Fellow at Pembroke and a university lecturer and so on. Oh yes, when Harold was elected Pleumum [?] in ‘46 I was going up the stairs in the Cavendish to give a lecture and Charles Darwin and G.I. Taylor called me back and said “we have just elected your husband Pleumum professor.” And when I got home Bob Stonley, who was also an elector, had been to see Harold and Harold was worrying his head off that Bob was to get Henry to show — It really was quite funny. I hadn’t realized that electors had to meet twice, and so the previous evening I thought oh well, he hasn’t been elected, but anyhow he was. People used to be rather surprised when he went abroad that he was not a professor, but the title was very rare in this place. It is now getting more common. What are they doing in Oxford? I heard they were making everybody professors?
So did I, but when I was there it didn’t seem to be the case. It is a matter of time, I am sure.
Well, yes, it seems to me a pity. But I think in Harvard there were a lot of professors but this certain, well; some were more equal than others. Ones with titles to them and so on.
Was he an experimentalist?
In what sense? He wasn’t...
Oh dear, [???] Luke Goldstein. There was an experiment to do with fluids.
Is this the one where he is in the boat in the camp, dropping ink.
Yes, that’s it, yes, and Sidney said, “You notice that is a very important experiment.” I think it is the one that Harold called his half-penny experiment or something. But no, not an experimenter, he was — I used to be staggered. If he would look at a seismogram he would say that’s P and that’s S, sort of thing, he was experimental to that extent. I used to say I’d been down more seismological cellars and up observatories than anybody else in the world. And of course all his computing was done on turn the handle, and the people who are now repeating it are absolutely staggered.
At — Well, Harold always said that with the assumption they had made you couldn’t do any better, and that seems to be so.
So this gets us onto his work practices. It seems as though he would receive data from — people would send him stuff, perhaps, or would he get it from published journals?
Yes, you see the tables were completed and published by the British AST [?] just before we married so that I really wasn’t aware of how that was done except that he was going on, he was going on doing travel times of earthquakes all his life in one way or another. And he always said that regional tables were necessary.
So was he part of a team of people where —
He would just work from on his own?
Yes, he corresponded a lot.
But there wouldn’t be a dedicated people who would be providing him with data which would then...
Well the sort of data he used were published and collected. Wait a minute. I have an impression that he really enjoyed making lists, because the plant work is like that too.
So he would analyze the data published elsewhere?
Oh yes. Well you see earthquakes aren’t very much in this country are they?
Was there anyone else at the same time doing the same sort of thing as he was?
But, apart from that, seemingly few people would.
Yes, it wasn’t a popular subject. Well Byerly [?] in Berkley, Byerly came here I suppose in the 20s, I didn’t know him until much later. When I did he said to me, “You don’t know what a lot I’ve learned from this man” he used to say “I’m a Jeffreys man.” There wasn’t any real antagonism I think between Harold and Guttenburg, but people did sort of line themselves perhaps a bit, and Barry was certainly devoted to Harold. No — well you see, in 1929 Harold and Guttenburg went to Caltech. There is that group that [???] there, and people there were working on earthquakes, well rather naturally in that part of the world, and Harold and Guttenburg were invited to go and more or less advise on the arrangement of things, I think. And Rachel Wood, Barry was quite young then. Yes, there was a certain amount going on in California, but I think Harold was pretty well a leader in applying rigorous mathematics to it.
Were his methods unusual for geophysicists, did many other people work like he did, or were there just so few people?
There were very few people.
Because I suppose he was still officially a mathematician at this time.
Well, he became a reader in geophysics sometime in the 30s. I can’t remember exactly when. First of all he would lecture in mathematics certainly. He gave non-courses on dynamics. But he was very soon lecturing on probability as well you see.
From about when?
Well I wouldn’t be able to say off hand. Let’s face it, he was not a good lecturer. The really ideal thing was if Harold wrote a paper and Ralph Lapwood gave it, which happened — that happened in 1971, well Harold was 80 anyway and we had been to Japan and so we didn’t got to wherever the IUGG met that year, and Ralph read his paper instead. He was an excellent lecturer.
Was it usual then for someone who was initially a mathematician to have so many applied interests?
In this place, yes. You see, I suppose Southwell, who eventually became professor of engineering in Oxford, I think he — well he was certainly secretary of the Mathematical Faculty Board, or Degree Committee when I took my PhD. Yes, here certainly there’s always been a spread.
Yes, I mean you yourself this tradition of people going through the mathematical topics then.
Oh yes, and into theoretical physics certainly. And certainly when quantum mechanics started, because you needed mathematics then.
He went in 1919 to1924 a series of papers with Dorothy Wrinch about the scientific method and then seemed to have left that alone for a few years returning in the early ‘30s when he published Scientific Inference.
Well, you see, I didn’t know what he was up to then. First I knew of it was ‘39 when he met me and said the theory of probably could come out. Well, I did know, because when he came back to Cambridge, you see, Sir Napier Shaw retired, and unfortunately I’ve forgotten the name of his successor, but he didn’t hold with the members of the staff doing their own research, and Harold wasn’t holding with that and so he came back to St. John’s just with his Fellowship for a bit. And then things were changing here very much, there was a royal commission on the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and the whole situation changed and we had faculties which we hadn’t had before, and Harold became a university lecturer fairly soon. He was a college lecturer for a bit. And in ‘23 he was invited by Shapley at Harvard, a marvelous letter, you know, I mean come and do what you like. I think he met Shapley at the Rome IAU, possibly, and he went under his own steam to, well, the eastern part of the states to see what he thought. He visited E. W. Brown at Yale and had a good look around, and came back and decided he would stay here because things were changing here. And anyhow that is what happened. I only discovered this after he died I think, I found the correspondence. And in fact, when we were at Harvard in 1950, ‘51, I didn’t realize that there had been this correspondence with Shapley, because at that time Harold was invited by Garrett Berkhoff and he was lecturing on fluid dynamics. And I had a desk with Guerrant Mensel [?] in the HCO. It was very soon after the War of course, and we hadn’t quite settled down here and it was the time of the McCarron Act [?], which was not a very happy time for one’s first visit to the states.
But I have seen much of his work, for example, on significance tests where he really started working out the work, in the ‘30s.
So did anything — I am trying to account for this sort of gap from 1922 or ‘23 onwards to that period where he started working on this in earnest. Did he lose interest do you think during that time and come back to it for some reason?
Well, he was doing other things. Ah, wait a minute, ‘24 on certain approximate solutions of linear difference to equations of the second order. Those are pretty meaty papers. Real solutions of water in an elliptical lake. He went into — well, he was into fluids quite a bit, oh yes, and he was— well, you see Dorothy married in ‘22 and went to Oxford, so that collaboration had ceased by then and — You see, your guess is as good as mine. When was the Oppau?
I think that was 1919, perhaps? Was it that early?
Well surely it was later than that.
Shall I find it. It must have been between 1919 and 1924. Well here is something. He has often said that the probability really came from the seismology work. Is that...?
I think the method of using the data, certainly. I am not able to say. He was tremendously interested in nature, and in mathematics, and in joining them up.
I notice he also was very interested in psychoanalysis.
Yes. He was psychoanalyzed as a matter of fact. I think he had a slightly stormy period in the ‘20s. It seemed to be completely over by the time we were married anyway, but he was very greatly interested in Freud. In fact, I found a letter I think proposing Freud as a foreign member.
Yes, he was pleased about that. And I think Anna Freud, Freud’s daughter, came here with a friend of ours. But by then he wasn’t so interested, but there are one or two psychoanalysis papers.
Yes, it seemed to me a curious thing, given his other interests.
Well, I think it was at his own not being completely happy.
When would that have been in the ‘20s?
Yes. And Frank Ramsey had the same interest. I mean I think it was very much in the air at that time.
Have you any idea of why he may have been discontented at this period?
I don’t know.
What about — again, it seems as though on this great work he did on probability. He again was solitary and didn’t seem to do much with the other people working.
No, and he didn’t know, I’m pretty certain, about the phonetic, because that seemed to be a surprise to him.
What about Cames?
Well, you have seen his review, no, his comet, no, his review of Cames’ book. And he was not a follower of Cames. He was, I wouldn’t say Cames was a follower of his but he and Dorothy Winch had got the idea before that went in Cames’ book.
But they were both in Cambridge did they have any contact?
No. [laughs] Cames’ was in Kings and Harold was in Johns.
But I think he did have some dealings of course with Fisher?
Oh, rather. Have you not seen the Fisher correspondence?
Oh, yes, yes indeed.
Oh, yes. I liked the little bit of paper congratulating Fisher when he came back as professor, and yes they saw something of each other then. I told you my story about my mother and Fisher?
Well when she was 80 she flew for the first time to Belfast for the Brigesst and at the introductory meeting Fisher was walking down the aisle, we were upstairs I think, Mother said, “who is that?” And I said, “oh that is Professor Fisher,” and she said, “Oh, he thinks something of himself doesn’t he?” Mother was a very good judge of — He did. He was— you see when he came here he didn’t bring his family; he brought his mice to that house at the corner of Storey’s Way, which had been Pummit’s [?]. And at the end of the mouse tenure it took some time to clean it out I gather. I think that is the story. And then I suppose he was Keys, originally he was a friend of Keys. I don’t know, I think he was a bit difficult. But I mean I shouldn’t be quoted on that. We saw something of him at the time. The Bards were very friendly with him.
But your husband wouldn’t have communicated about his work socially with such people?
Well, they had that correspondence, obviously.
You see, Harold was not a talker at all. He was fluent on paper, but not in conversation. I don’t think Fisher ever came here. They probably — oh I am sure Harold would have had him to dinner and he went to dinner [???] I see. Because that’s, well as you know, in an older university that is how people meet. I don’t remember a great deal about Fisher. Didn’t he die? Oh here, well, “Theory of Mensuration at the Emeridge.”
That would be in ‘23. We are coming to the end of the tape here, so I should ask you again if you would mind if people listened to these tapes.
I think they shouldn’t copy them or quote from them without asking me first. Does that seem fair?
Yes, perfectly so.
I don’t imagine that will produce a lot of correspondence.
Well thank you very much, Lady Jeffreys.
Not at all. I don’t trust anybody in the United States. My [???] said they always get things wrong.
That is very mischievous.
That is switched off I trust.
Well look, turn it back and wash it out.