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Mary K. Gall

  • Born: 1922, New York, New York

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0695
Interview Dates: March 26, 2012 and March 27, 2012
Location: Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia, PA
Interviewers: Hilary Domush and Mike Wronski
No. of pages: 71
Minutes: 188

  Abstract of Interview

Mary K. Gall, the elder of two children, was born in New York City, New York.  The family lived first in Short Hills, New Jersey, and then in Newport, Rhode Island.  She spent summers in Holderness, New Hampshire, where she discovered nature on walks with her grandmother.  Gall attended several different elementary schools; in high school she found that she liked Latin and was good at math and chemistry.  Her paternal grandfather, a pilot, helped promote an air force after World War I.  Her maternal grandfather was a U.S. Representative from Rhode Island.  

Gall matriculated at Vassar College, which her mother and aunt had attended.  She could afford college only with scholarships and by living in cooperative housing.  Like many freshmen, she found college’s freedom seductive but soon settled in to hard work.  Originally she was interested in bacteriology, but she decided to major in chemistry.  She felt she did not have enough “drive” for medical school, and she always wanted to be a lab person, not an academic, a view confirmed by jobs she was given in the chemistry lab.

After graduation Gall’s first job was at Hayden Chemicals, about which she does not remember much except the styrene odor.  Although there was only one other woman chemist at Hayden, Gall felt there was no particular bias against women.  Gall left Hayden for McNeil Laboratories, but she soon resigned in order to travel with her mother and a friend in Europe.  When she returned from Europe she took a retail job at Strawbridge but realized that she wanted to go back to chemistry.  This she did at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School.  There she worked with interns on liver regeneration, establishing the “Liver Local.”  On she went to Rohm and Haas to work on sigatoka, a banana pest.  She took over reading to a blind chemist and began to write an information bulletin based on her reading of patents, including those in German and French; eventually she even learned Braille.  Rohm and Haas downsized, sending Gall to Mobil Research Laboratories.  There she worked with the early computers, using special thesauruses for managing data and searching patents.  Joining the American Chemical Society, she met and married John Gall, a fluorine chemist.  

During the interview Gall discusses changes she has seen in the chemistry field, particularly, and in science generally, especially changes for women.  She highlights the need for a PhD and tenure obstacles for women.  She feels she is not aggressive in the usual sense, but is a “quiet pusher” who helped many people all over the world while she was at Mobil.  When the interviewer characterizes Gall as having humor, curiosity, and charity, she says her philosophy is not to worry about what she cannot change.  Keeping up with current topics, she cuts articles for family and friends:  “I have the scissors; they have the wastebasket.”  She still volunteers and is a member of two book groups.


1944 B.S., Chemistry, Vassar College

  Professional Experience

Hayden Chemicals

University of Pennsylvania Medical School

McNeil Laboratories

Rohm and Haas

Mobil Research Laboratories

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Early Years 1

Born in New York City, New York.  One brother.  Father a sugar broker.  Lived in Short Hills, New Jersey, until father’s death.  Moved to Newport, Rhode Island; spent summers in Holderness, New Hampshire.  Nature walks with grandmother.  Attended several different schools.  Mother’s work.  Liked Latin; good at math and chemistry.  Grandfather one of first promoters of U.S. Air Force after World War I.  Maternal grandfather U.S. Representative from Rhode Island.  Large family plot in Arlington National Cemetery.

College Years 11

Matriculated at Vassar College, which mother and aunt had attended.  
Scholarships.  Cooperative housing.  First-year fumbles.  Originally interested in bacteriology but switched to chemistry.  Not enough drive for medical school.  Returning soldiers at Vassar.  Physical education requirement.  Liked golf.  Some jobs in chemistry lab.  Always wanted to be lab person, not academic.  

Early Employment 19

Went with friend to Hayden Chemicals.  Styrene odor.  No other women chemists at Hayden.  Accidents and safety.  Felt there was no particular bias against women at work.  Left Hayden for McNeil Laboratories.  Trip to Europe.  Working in pillow department at Strawbridge.  

Back to Chemistry 26

University of Pennsylvania Medical School.  “Liver Local.”  Ruth Brown.  I.S.
Ravdin and Jonathan Rhodes.  On to Rohm and Haas.  Working on sigatoka, a banana pest.  Frank Glavis, the blind chemist.  Taking Helen Tucker’s place upon her retirement.  Finding and writing descriptions of patents.  Reading German and French.  Began information bulletin.  Thyroid trouble.  Learned Braille.  “Downsized” by Rohm and Haas.  Went to Mobil Research Labs.  Early computers, located in California.  Data management; thesaurus.  Small group of information people.  Eugene Garfield.  Cassandra Burcham.  

American Chemical Society 42

Met husband, John Gall, fluorine chemist working at Pennsalt.  Rediscovered the outdoors.  Hiking.  Maintaining a stretch of Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania.  Favorite hikes.  Mt. Washington and other president mountains.  Mt. Lafayette.  Pacific Crest Trail.

General Thoughts 51

Changes in chemistry field.  Women and tenure.  Necessity for PhD.  Challenges for women today, in science generally and in academia particularly.  Tenure obstacles for women.  Gall a “quiet pusher”; helped people worldwide while at Mobil.  Need for good teachers in chemistry; her experience with polymer science class at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute.  Professors at Vassar.  Interviewer’s characterization of Gall as having humor, curiosity, charity.  Her philosophy is not to worry about what she can’t change.  Keeping up with current topics; cuts articles for family and friends:  “I have the scissors; they have the wastebasket.”  Finds people interesting.  Still volunteers and is member of two book groups.

Index 69

  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

Mike Wronski

Michael Wronski is a member of CHF’s advancement staff.

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