No Purple Fingers: Beutler Practices Physics in a Man's World

According to tradition, the Radcliffe china is awarded to the first woman in her class to marry after graduation.

In 1950, that woman was Abigail C. Beutler who married soon after receiving her degree.

Beutler, however, turned out to be anything but a traditional woman of her era.

Though discouraged by professors who thought women had no business in the sciences, she concentrated in physics, went on to receive three masters degrees and conducted innovative research in her field.

And over the course of her career, she worked for the military, studied space physics and even worked as an automobile engineer--serving as a pioneer for women in science and the professional world.


'We Don't Want Girls'

Originally from the Boston area, Beutler was 16 when she enrolled at Radcliffe in 1946.

She says she remembers commuting to school and hanging out at Agassiz House in Radcliffe Yard, drinking tea, playing bridge and "sometimes doing homework."

But nothing could match the idea of stereotypical women's roles better than the reason Beutler's family sent her to Radcliffe.

"My mother told me to go to Radcliffe so I could marry a Harvard guy," she says.

And men, Beutler found, were in high supply.

"There were young men and not-so-young men," she says, referring to the large number of World War II veterans with whom she became acquainted.

"I think the ratio of Harvard guys to Radcliffe girls was about 17 to 1," Beutler says. "I certainly got my quota."

Although "the idea of going to college to have a career was secondary," Beutler says she came to Radcliffe sure of her interest in science.

"I was going to do physics or chemistry, but it was no fun going to parties with purple fingers," Beutler says. "So I did physics."

But there was no traveled path Beutler found before her.

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