Oral History Interviews

Interviews that offer unique insights into the lives, works, and personalities of modern scientists

Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin on Ernest Rutherford.

Oral history audio excerpt

Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin on Ernest Rutherford.

Gingerich:

And so you continued alone as far as the women were concerned?

Gaposchkin:

Yes.

Gingerich:

And there had been women there in physics before you?

Gaposchkin:

Yes. Not too many. There had been some.

Gingerich:

You were probably the only woman at the lectures.

Gaposchkin:

I was, indeed.

Gingerich:

You were regarded as something of a curiosity, or you were ignored?

Gaposchkin:

Well, was I think rather resented, know was resented by Rutherford because there was a rule that the women were not allowed to occupy the same rows of seats as the men, so I had to sit in the front row all by myself. And Rutherford always used to start his lectures very pointedly: “Ladies…and gentlemen.”

Gingerich:

take it that he resented your taking up the entire row of seats that might have been occupied by men, or?

Gaposchkin:

No. I don’t think he thought much of women in research.

Gingerich:

Or did this cramp his lecturing style?

Gaposchkin:

I don’t believe so. He was rather forthright. I became quite a close friend of his daughter, and she reported to me that he had said to her indignantly, “She isn’t interested in you, my dear; she’s just interested in me,” which made me so mad that I decided that I would not continue in physics but that I would turn to astronomy as soon as I could.