Helen Redfield, ’20

I’ve posted quite a bit about the early history of Rice’s biology department and consequently thought that it would yield no more surprises. I was, as is often the case, mistaken. My new surprise began with this:

Biology faculty at Woods Hole summer 1917 Davies glass neg

It’s a very old picture–printed from a glass plate negative–of Rice biologists Julian Huxley, Hermann Muller and Edgar Altenburg. It’s labeled on the back, “Biology faculty, Woods Hole, Summer 1917.” It’s a great picture but I was immediately skeptical about the date. 1917 is surely too late for these three to be there, as Huxley would have already returned to England. So I began trying to figure out when this could have been taken. I think it must have been the summer of 1916, but frankly I lost interest when I put “Rice Institute” and “Woods Hole” into my search engine and almost immediately found this picture. (Go look at it! It’s amazing.) I can safely say that this was about the last thing I expected to see.

Here is Helen Redfield as a Rice junior:

Helen Redfield 1919 Campanile

She was really smart–she worked as an assistant in Rice’s math department as a student but became deeply interested in the modern currents of genetics through her teachers in the biology department, Muller and Altenburg. After graduation she went off to Berkeley, where she earned her Ph.D. in zoology, then taught at Stanford. In 1926 she became a research fellow at Columbia, working in Thomas Hunt Morgan’s famous “Fly Room,” the cradle of drosophila work in genetics, where both Muller and Altenburg had also worked. (Former Rice biology professor David Queller gave a great Scientia talk during the centennial year about Julian Huxley and Hermann Muller, which includes a lot of discussion about the Fly Room. It’s available here.)

Redfield married another researcher in Morgan’s lab, Jack Schultz, and they had two children. She worked sporadically after that, including stints at NYU and Cal Tech. Schultz wound up in the National Academy of Science. Here’s a link to his memorial biography, which mentions Helen’s contributions also.


“Helen Redfield”. Embryo Project Encyclopedia (1921). ISSN: 1940-5030

Bonus: This is the picture she chose to go along with her formal senior yearbook picture.

Helen Redfield 1920 Campanile

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4 Responses to Helen Redfield, ’20

  1. Debra Koah says:

    Beautiful photos. Beautiful story.

  2. Lynn says:

    One of your best finds!

  3. Pingback: Sweet Vindication and Woods Hole | Rice History Corner

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