Oral History Interviews

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

Joseph Mayer on his wife, Maria Goeppert Mayer, and her work.

Oral history audio excerpt

Joseph Mayer on his wife, Maria Goeppert Mayer, and her work.

Hoddeson:

Did she have the kinds of problems that lots of women certainly complain of nowadays, about being a woman in a man’s field? Did she do much complaining?

Mayer:

She didn’t complain. She wasn’t a complainer. No. She never got paid. Really.

Hoddeson:

She never got paid?

Mayer:

Oh, much later. I think Carl Hertzfeld paid her as a personal assistant something like $100 a year.

Hoddeson:

My God.

Mayer:

But I mean, I think that was probably out of his own pocket. But the university wouldn’t. When we went to Columbia after —

Hoddeson:

— did that have to do with the fact that she was married to you, or the fact that she was a woman? or both?

Mayer:

Probably both. I’m sure they had nepotism laws. They got her free, why should they? But Maria didn’t complain. I mean, after all, she’d been brought up in Germany, where it was worse for women probably at that time. At least it certainly was after Hitler. No — oh, we had an awful lot of fun. I mean, science was so much fun. That’s the main thing…