I got a real surprise the other day as I was going through the old faculty club records. I’ve known for a long time that Miss Alice Dean was a member from the beginning, which was not a thing to be taken for granted at that time and place in what was then a real club. Here you can see that her election was unanimously accomplished at the second meeting of the organizational committee:
What caught me by surprise was this membership list from 1936, where I found another “Miss” in the second column:
Once again I had accidentally discovered a remarkably accomplished alumna who I’d never heard of before–we don’t have a file on her anywhere. After earning her doctorate at the Rice Institute in Chemistry, Eby Nell McElrath went on to a long and productive career on the faculty of the University of Houston, where she taught and did research until her retirement in 1972. Her impact on the institution and on her students was vast and is still remembered there. Here is an excerpt from a 2007 piece from U of H that announced a fellowship in her honor. Go here to read the whole thing–there’s a lot more.
For decades Eby Nell McElrath taught, mentored and inspired chemistry students at the University of Houston.
A pioneer at a time when very few women got Ph.D.s in the hard sciences, McElrath helped cultivate the tiny chemistry program at a new, fledgling university into the research and academic force it is today.
Along the way she touched the lives of students, who even 50 years after they left her classroom and lab still vividly recall her kindness, dedication and sense of humor. Now, through the generosity of one of those former students, McElrath’s legacy will continue to support and encourage the students she was so devoted to.
The Eby Nell McElrath Fellowship – established last year by Dr. Herman Suit – is just the latest chapter in a story that goes back to 1939. McElrath was a newly minted chemist with a Ph.D. from Rice University when she became a chemistry professor at UH.
The university – which was still part of the Houston public school system – had just moved to its present location and McElrath was among only four chemistry faculty members.
Science was still viewed as a man’s world back then. But McElrath’s extraordinary intelligence – combined with her warm-hearted and unassuming personality – won her the respect and admiration of both students and colleagues, said Dr. Beatrice Welch, a longtime friend of McElrath.
When I found her senior picture in the 1935 Campanile I nearly swooned with delight. I would join any club she was in.