Penn collection named a historic chemical landmark

March 15, 2000

The University of Pennsylvania made history with its appointment of Judith Rodin, the first woman president of an Ivy League school. Now, it is the site of another historic event that continues a tradition of opening new doors to women begun more than a century before.

On March 16, the university's Edgar Fahs Smith Memorial Collection in the History of Chemistry will be designated a National Historic Chemical Landmark by the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society. The event will be marked by presentation of a commemorative plaque at a ceremony at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pa.

Edgar Fahs Smith, the chemistry professor who began the collection, played a key role in the university's long history of providing opportunities for women. Under his direction, ten women received Ph.Ds in chemistry between 1894 and 1908. That might not be unusual today. Back then, it was highly unusual: women had not yet won the vote.

The collection, housed in the university's Annenberg Rare Book and Manuscript Library, includes more than 15,000 books, manuscripts and pamphlets, many from the libraries of renowned scientists such as Sir Isaac Newton, the discoverer of gravity, and Joseph Priestley, the discoverer of oxygen. It also contains more than 4,000 photographs and engravings of scientists and alchemists, early chemical equipment, and the first book known to mention pyrotechnics (explosives). The collection is a resource for information seekers ranging from museums restoring old masters to brewers seeking recipes for early beers.

The National Historic Chemical Landmark designation is given by the American Chemical Society to increase the public's appreciation of the role chemistry has played in our history and to remind the chemistry community of its rich heritage.

Speakers at the March 16 event will include Dr. Daryle H. Busch, president of the American Chemical Society; James J. Bohning, Lehigh University, who will speak about Edgar Fahs Smith as a mentor to women; Michael T. Ryan, curator of the Edgar Fahs Smith Collection; and Arnold Thackray, president of the Chemical Heritage Foundation, which is also based in Philadelphia.

Edgar Fahs Smith (1854-1928) graduated from the Pennsylvania College of Gettysburg. He received his doctorate in chemistry from the University of Göttingen, Germany. He enjoyed a long career as professor of chemistry and, later, became chair of the chemistry department and eventually provost of the University of Pennsylvania (the provost was then the university's chief executive officer).

Smith's teaching was marked by his dedication to the moral value of or its humanistic side. His goal was to counter the contemporary view of scientists in American universities as industrial technicians.
The Edgar Fahs Smith Memorial Collection in the History of Chemistry will be designated as a National Chemistry Landmark by the American Chemical Society, Thursday, March 16, 2000 at 4:00 p.m. The event will take place at the Rosenwald Gallery, Sixth Floor, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center, University of Pennsylvania, 3420 Walnut Street (entrance on Locust Walk).

A nonprofit organization with a membership of 161,000 chemists and chemical engineers, the American Chemical Society publishes scientific journals and databases, convenes major research conferences, and provides educational, science policy and career programs in chemistry. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio. ( )

American Chemical Society

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