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Honoring Madeleine Joullié

Organic chemist is a champion of women in chemistry

by Linda Raber
April 23, 2007 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 85, Issue 17

Madeleine M. Joullié

Integrity, perseverance, self-control, indomitable spirit, and courtesy are the characteristics of a great leader. They are, in essence, what make Madeleine M. Joullié, Class of 1970 Professor of Chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania, a champion for women in chemistry.

These heartfelt sentiments were shared by Joullié protégé Cynthia A. Maryanoff, a chemist with Cordis Corp., and were frequently echoed at a Women Chemists Committee symposium at last month's American Chemical Society national meeting in Chicago.

The symposium was held to commemorate Joullié's 80th birthday. It focused on involvement with ACS as a launching pad to leadership for women in chemistry. A leader in many spheres, Joullié serves as a member of the society's board of directors.

The symposium also offered women chemists an opportunity to reflect on Joullié's contributions as a leader in organic chemistry and in mentoring. For her more than 50 years as a professor, she has been a champion for all—especially women—in science.

Joullié was delighted and grateful, if a little embarrassed at all the hoopla. "I am glad I am still alive to enjoy it, because once you are dead it does not make much difference," she observed with a smile.

Joullié was born in Paris and grew up in Rio de Janeiro. She moved to the U.S. for her undergraduate studies, obtaining a B.Sc. degree in chemistry from Simmons College in Boston. At a time when women graduate students in chemistry were few and far between, she attended the University of Pennsylvania, receiving an M.Sc. degree in 1950 and a Ph.D. in 1953 under the direction of her mentor, Allen R. Day.

Day's interest in mechanistic organic chemistry had a strong influence on Joullié, who has more than 300 publications to her name. In addition to dozens of other awards she has received, Joullié recently was named a Cope Senior Scholar, one of ACS's highest honors.

The symposium in Chicago didn't deal with Joullié's technical accomplishments. That would have taken more than the daylong session allotted. Her scientific work is being celebrated at the University of Pennsylvania on May 2 at an event sponsored by Wyeth, whose senior vice president and head of chemical and screening science, Magid Abou-Gharbia, was a Ph.D. student of Joullié's.

After receiving her Ph.D. and being turned down for a job by DuPont, which didn't hire women scientists at the time, Joullié became the first woman to join the University of Pennsylvania's chemistry faculty. She also was the first female organic chemist to be appointed to a tenure-track position at a major American university. She rose to become full professor in 1974.

As her own career flourished, Joullié was always focused on the development and well-being of her students and postdoctoral associates. Symposium attendees heard that Joullié usually works in her office fairly late and often offers to drive her students home to their apartments, making a circular shuttle route through West Philadelphia before arriving at her home. "I don't want my students roaming the streets at night," Joullié explained.

At the symposium, ACS Executive Director Madeleine Jacobs told a famous story that involved Joullié awaiting the results of medical tests at a clinic in Philadelphia:

"You probably don't remember me," the doctor said.

Joullié thought the name was vaguely familiar and that she had probably taught her organic chemistry. "I cannot go to a doctor I didn't teach," Joullié quipped.

The doctor turned out to be one of her undergraduate students in the 1950s. According to the story, the doctor had been scared to death of organic chemistry and heard that there was "this 'hysterical' woman teaching the course."

"I came and talked to you," the doctor reminded Joullié, "and then you encouraged me. You tutored me on Saturdays. You took me to the ACS meetings. You wanted me to be a chemist, but I wanted to be a doctor. You wrote me letters of recommendation. I'm here because of you."

And so are many others. When contacted by C&EN after the meeting, Joullié said, "The best birthday present I had in Chicago was to see two of my former students, now teaching at Juniata College and at Washington & Jefferson College, both in Pennsylvania, with their students presenting posters at the ACS meeting, just as they did when they were my students.

"I cannot describe the satisfaction I had in seeing that these young people had taken over the mentoring job that is so important for our young generation. I am so thankful to have lived long enough to witness this."



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