Tag: women in science

July 15, 2003: Death of Luz Zalduegi, first woman veterinarian in the Basque Country

We try as much as possible here in our Flashback Friday post on the CBS blog to give a voice to overlooked figures in history. These are often women and they were invariably involved in day-to-day matters rather than major political events or wars or the like. That said, this is the essence of social history, and within the seemingly prosaic context, we have come across real treasures when it comes to individual life stories. Such is the case of Luz Zalduegi Gabilondo, born on the Osma baserri or farmstead in Mallabia, Bizkaia, on June 1, 1914.

Luz Zalduegi (1914-2003)

Luz Zalduegi (1914-2003)

Her parents encouraged all their children, two girls and two boys, to get a good education, and the family stuck together in their schooling. When the oldest of them, Miguel Félix, went to Madrid to study veterinary science in 1928, his siblings accompanied him. While both her other brother and sister ultimately decided on careers in education, Luz opted to follow in her eldest brother’s footsteps and train to be a vet (needless to say, in the 1930s this was a bold decision for a  young woman to make). She eventually graduated in 1935, only the third woman in the Spanish state to obtain the title of veterinarian, and the first Basque to do so.

As in so many of the stories we have covered here, the outbreak of the civil war in 1936 had a tremendous impact on her life. She returned to Mallabia, where she was in charge of food distribution in the town during the conflict until Franco’s troops ultimately invaded and occupied Bizkaia. She subsequently found work as a food inspector in both Bermeo (Bizkaia) and Eibar (Gipuzkoa). In 1940, she married a classmate from college, Leandro Carbonero Bravo, and the couple prepared to apply for veterinary positions in the Spanish protectorate of Morocco. However, while Leandro was accepted, she was turned down on account of her gender. The couple spent five years there, during which time she had two children and, in the event that Leandro was unavailable, carried out inspections in an unofficial capacity.

In 1945 the family moved to Madrid, where Luz found employment in the Institute of Animal Biology. In 1955, she moved to the Department of Agrarian Statistics in the Ministry of Agriculture, where she was president of the higher agrarian council between 1982 and 1984.  She never lost contact with the Basque Country and remained a qualified veterinarian in Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa as well as in Madrid. The family, moreover, spent most of its summers at the ancestral baserri in Mallabia. She died on July 15, 2003.

In 1995 the Veterinarian’s Association of Gipuzkoa honored her officially and and in 2014 the town councils of Mallabia and neighboring Zaldibar carried out a public act in recognition of her work and contributions.

For more information, check out Uxune Martinez Mazaga, “Luz Zalduegi, veterinaria con convicción (1914-2003),” at the blog Mujeres con ciencia.

The CBS is committed to Basque women’s studies. If you are interested in this topic, check out Feminist Challenges in the Social Sciences: Gender Studies in the Basque Country, edited by  Mari Luz Esteban and Mila Amurrio, free to download here.

See, too, Amatxi, Amuma, Amona: Writings in Honor of Basque Women, edited by Linda White and Cameron Watson.

 

 

January 23, 1921: Birth of influential chemist Josefa Molero

On January 23, 1921 Maria Josefa Molero Mayo was born in Izaba, Navarre. She would go on to be an important figure in chemical kinetics and analytical techniques in gas chromatography as well as an important influence on scientific research in Spain.

Born in the picturesque village of Izaba, high in the Erronkari (Roncal) Valley of Navarre, Molero faced a number of hurdles early on in her career. As well as the inherent prejudice against women in professional positions that was a feature of the Franco dictatorship in Spain at that time, she was also from a family that had opposed Franco’s rebels during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) and had to live with that stigma and discrimination in the aftermath of the war. Despite all this, she graduated from the Central University of Madrid with excellent grades in 1942. When it came to starting her doctorate, after initially being rejected from joining a research institute in Madrid on the grounds that she was a woman, she was later offered a place at another research center in the city, obtaining her doctorate cum laude in 1948, earning a special award for her work on applications of mercury electrodes in the process.

She then secured a position at the prestigious Rocasolano Institute in Madrid, and from there managed to secure an important grants to go to Oxford, where she worked in the laboratory of Sir Cyril Norman Hinshelwood, who a few years later would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1956 for his research into the mechanism of chemical reactions. On her return, she used that experience to create the first gas chromatograph in Spain as well as a whole new field of research at Spain’s Institute of Physical Chemistry: Pyrolysis and oxidation gas-phase reactions in organic compounds at low temperatures.  She also set up a department of Chemical Kinetics, which she headed until her retirement in 1986. In 1959 she was a visiting scholar at the University of Sheffield in England, where she worked with George Porter (who would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1967) on light chemical reactions. On her return, she put a lot of this experience into practice, pioneering the study of chemical reactions produced by  chromatography in liquid gasses at the Spanish state level.

She won numerous awards throughout her life and was an important figure in establishing important research in key fields of Chemistry in Spain. She died at age 90 in Madrid in 2011.  In May 2013, the city of Pamplona-Iruña designated a Josefa Molera Mayo Street.

P.S. It is interesting to note that the village of Izaba was also the birthplace of renowned Basque physicist Pedro Miguel Etxenike (b. 1950).

Information taken from Uxune Martinez, “Josefa Molero Mayo (1921-2011): Izabatik kimikaren historiara,” Zientzia Kaiera.

A Pioneering Basque Woman Physicist and Meteorologist: Felisa Martín Bravo

Today, February 11, is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, and here at the Center we’d like to celebrate the pioneering career of Basque physicist and meteorologist Felisa Martín Bravo  (1898-1974).

felisa-martin-bravo

Felisa Martín Bravo

Born in Donostia-San Sebastián in 1898, she graduated high school in her home city and then completed a bachelor’s degree in physical science at the University of Madrid, graduating in 1922. She remained in Madrid to study for her doctorate while working in a research group led by Julio Palacios. Here, applying the Bragg and Debye–Scherrer methods, she established the crystal structure of nickel and cobalt oxides as well as lead sulfide by means of x-rays.

She completed her dissertation in 1926, and later traveled to the United States to teach both Spanish and physics at Connecticut College in New London, CT. While in the US, she also took time out to visit various research labs at Harvard and Yale. After returning to Madrid, she also began work as an assistant at the Spanish Meteorological Office. In 1932, she went to the University of Cambridge where, besides attending classes by the renowned physicist Ernest Rutherford, she also improved her knowledge of the atmospheric sciences thanks to the classes of C.T.R. Wilson. She returned to her job at the Meteorological Office in 1934 but when the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, her life, like those of so many others changed dramatically.

The main Meteorological Office was moved to Valencia, under control of the pro-Franco forces, but she decided to remain loyal to the Second Republic and remain in Madrid. In doing so, she lost her job. But in the chaos of the war, it transpired that a director was needed for the Igeldo Meteorological Observatory, just outside Donostia-San Sebastián, and she came to occupy that post between 1937 and 1940. Thereafter, she returned to Madrid and was able, finally and overcoming innumerable hurdles put in her place by the new Franco regime (including an inquiry into how “clean” she was of undesirable political sympathies), to resume a position in the Meteorological Office where she became a fully accredited meteorologist and researched atmospheric electricity.

Little is know of her life after retirement. She died in Mexico in 1974.

Information sourced in Uxune Martinez, “Igeldoko Behatokiko meteorologoa: Felisa Martin (1898-1974),” Zientzia Kaiera (September 19, 2014).