New Search

Sally Chapman

Sally Chapman

Portrait of Sally Chapman

  • Born: July 28, 1946, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Died: June 2, 2012

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0633
Interview Dates: January 5, 2009 and January 6, 2009
Location: Barnard College, New York, New York
Interviewer: Hilary Domush
No. of pages: 75
Minutes: 245

  Abstract of Interview

Sally Chapman's oral history begins with a discussion of her childhood in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, area and her early aptitude in math. Chapman's interest in science was fostered both by her "tinkerer" father and by the nationwide interest in innovative science education that occurred after Sputnik. She chose Smith College and, after some first-semester difficulties and courses in both physics and chemistry, Chapman found her love for chemistry. She worked for the Quaker Chemical Corporation, where she assisted technicians and experienced basic, day-to-day activities in a lab. Although her senior year thesis on calorimetry was an experimental nightmare, the project did provide her with computing experience and knowledge. Realizing she was not ready for graduate school as she completed undergraduate work at Smith, Chapman became a computer programmer at Metropolitan Life Insurance Company in New York.

After her stint in New York, Chapman decided to pursue graduate school; she chose Yale University, where she worked with Raymond Suplinskas on Hot Atom Chemistry. But at the end of Chapman's second year, Suplinskas left and the physical chemistry faculty at Yale was decimated. Chapman continued with her graduate work, providing much detail about this period of time in her studies, and benefited much from the work and assistance of John Tully and Richard Preston. At the end of her graduate study, she undertook two post-doctoral positions, learning about the practice of science from her advisors. After the post-doctoral positions, Chapman faced difficulties in the job market, including being interviewed only because she was a woman, and not because she had any chance to get the job. This made her think about and reflect upon her experiences as an undergraduate tutor in Mississippi and her other experiences during the Civil Rights Movement. 

The interview concludes with Chapman's beliefs about the atmosphere at Yale for women, along with a discussion of the trajectory of numbers of women faculty at other universities. She recounts her impressions of the factors that went into her hiring at Barnard College: the role of Bernice, Segal, the woman who hired her; the close relationship between Barnard and Columbia University, especially between the chemistry departments; and Barnard's status as an undergraduate university. In addition, Chapman talks about her work in the community of women in chemistry, which has included the Committee on the Advancement of Women Chemists (COACh), advising and mentoring students, and various other activities to strengthen the community of women in science.


1968 A.B., Chemistry, Smith College
1973 Ph.D., Chemistry, Yale University

  Professional Experience

University of California, Irvine

1973 - 1974

Postdoctorate, Chemistry, under Donald L. Bunker

University of California, Berkeley

1974 - 1975

Postdoctorate, Chemistry, under William H. Miller

Barnard College

1975 - 1981 Assistant Professor, Chemistry

Barnard College

1981 - 1986 Associate Professor, Chemistry

Barnard College

1986 - Present Professor, Chemistry

Barnard College

1989 - 1994 Ann Whitney Olin Professor


1970 - 1973

NSF Predoctoral Fellow

1978 - 1980

Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellow

2002 AWIS Metro-NY: Outstanding Woman Scientist
2005 AWIS Fellow

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Early life and education 1

Growing up in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, area. Early education and aptitude in math. High school interest in science. Family's role in education.

Higher education 9

Entrance into Smith College. Decision to study chemistry. Influential professors. Test-taking techniques. Laboratory work at Quaker Chemical Corporation. Work on senior thesis, instruments, and computers. Thoughts on the chemistry students and faculty.

Graduate study and postdoctoral positions 23

Work with Metropolitan Life Insurance Company as a computer programmer. Decision to go to graduate school at Yale University. Difficulties with graduate study and hot atom work. University of California, Berkeley post-doctorate with Bill Miller. University of California, Irvine post-doctorate with Don Bunker.

Experiences as a woman in science 33

Difficulties with job search as a woman in science. Interviews and decision to go to Barnard College. Teaching students in Mississippi for a summer. Life at Yale for a woman. The numbers of female faculty in the past and at present. The influence of Bernice Segal.

Barnard College observations 45

The history of Barnard's relationship with Columbia University. The chemistry departments at Barnard and Columbia. New professors and the interview process. Teaching and research at an undergraduate university.

The community of women in science 53

Committee on the Advancement of Women Chemists: beginnings and current work. The status of the community of women chemists. Mentoring.

Index 66

  About the Interviewers

Hilary Domush

Hilary Domush was a Program Associate in the Center for Oral History at CHF from 2007-2015. Previously, she earned a BS in chemistry from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine in 2003.  She then completed an MS in chemistry and an MA in history of science both from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  Her graduate work in the history of science focused on early nineteenth-century chemistry in the city of Edinburgh, while her work in the chemistry was in a total synthesis laboratory.  At CHF, she worked on projects such as the Pew Biomedical Scholars, Women in Chemistry, Atmospheric Science, and Catalysis

Hear It Firsthand

The Center for Oral History captures and preserves the stories of notable figures in chemistry and related fields, with over 425 oral histories that deal with various aspects of science, of scientists, and of scientific practices. For more information please visit CHF’s Oral History Program or e-mail oralhistory@

Annual Report

Annual Report
Take a look back at a year of preservation, research, and outreach in CHF’s annual report to supporters.

Support CHF

Help us preserve and share the history of chemistry and related sciences. Make a tax-deductible tax-deductible gift online.