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Hildred Blewett was passionate about physics, so much that she left nearly everything she had to APS, for scholarships for women in physics.
|Photo Courtesy of Blewett Family Hildred Blewett|
She was born in Ontario on May 28, 1911. She began her career in physics working at General Electric in Schenectady, New York, in the 1940s, where she developed a method of controlling the pollution from smoke from factory chimneys. In 1947 she and her then husband, John Blewett, were among the original team members at Brookhaven National Laboratory. Mrs. Blewett later worked at Argonne National Laboratory, and then at CERN. She retired from CERN in 1977 and moved to Vancouver. She died June 13, 2004, at age 93.
Mrs. Blewett had always been good at mathematics and physics, said her brother, Talmage Hunt. Her father, an engineer who became a minister, supported her interests.
Few women went into physics at the time, and those who did often faced discrimination, but Blewett was a strong woman who did what she wanted to do. But she always felt she was being kept down in her career because she was a woman, said her brother Talmage Hunt. This feeling may have been one of the reasons she wanted to set up a scholarship specifically for women, said Hunt.
Another factor that may have influenced Mrs. Blewett's decision was that she grew up in a poor family, and at one point had to take a year off from college because she didn't have enough money, said her financial advisor, Frank Malinka. "She didn't have any money to keep going to school, and she had to discontinue her studies, which was her absolute passion. So she would like to see that that doesn't happen to women these days," said Malinka.
Having grown up with little money, Blewett always accounted for her every penny, and lived modestly throughout her life. "Until the time she died she could tell you exactly how much change she had in her purse," said Hunt.
Though she was married for some time to John Blewett, another accelerator physicist, the pair divorced in the 1960s, and Hildred Blewett never remarried or had children.
Aside from physics, she loved traveling, opera, and reading. "She was an avid reader, even after losing most of her eye sight and she had to read large print books. She would read a couple dozen books a month," said Hunt. In her will, Mrs. Blewett also left money to the Vancouver Public Library Outreach Service, which delivered boxes of books to her home each month.
The rest of her money came to APS. "She really felt that what she had should go back to physics. It was really important to her," said Malinka.
Hildred Blewett Reminiscence
"Night to Remember", CERN Courier, October 30, 2009.
Hildred Blewett gives a personal account of the events leading to the start-up of CERN's Proton Synchrotron on 24 November 1959, on the very evening before she was scheduled to return to the U.S. (Reprint of the original article written for the CERN Courier in 1969).