Ellen Swallow Richards, born this day in 1842, graduated from MIT in 1873 and later became an instructor there. In this edition of the MIT Alumni Books podcast, Richards’s cousin, three generations removed, tells the story of Richards’s remarkable life. Listen now.
Pamela Curtis Swallow discusses “The Swallow Experiment” and the legacy of her forebear in this podcast. “What a difference she made in her years at MIT,” Swallow says. “I’m so proud of her. I can’t believe I’ve got some of the same genes.”
Swallow, a children’s author, published The Remarkable Life and Career of Ellen Swallow Richards in August with John Wiley and Sons, the same house that published Richards’s fifteen books on ecology and science in her lifetime.
In her nearly 40 years at MIT, Richards tolerated prejudice, skepticism, and isolation, but she endured. She advocated for the founding establishment of a women’s laboratory for chemistry, spearheaded the New England Kitchen movement, and advanced research in the fields of hydrology, ecology, and home economics. Since her graduation in 1873, more than 26,000 alumnae have followed.
Swallow’s account of her cousin speaks to Richards’s immediate impact and enduring legacy. At her funeral in 1911, for instance, Richards’s critics turned admirers became her devoted pallbearers.
“They had certainly changed their tune as they had gotten to know her,” says Swallow. “MIT had its flags at half-mast. It certainly was a turnaround. What a difference she made in her years at MIT.”
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