Carr, Emma Perry (1880–1972)

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

Carr, Emma Perry (1880–1972)

American chemist and university professor. Born on July 23, 1880, in Holmesville, Ohio; died in 1972 in Evanston, Illinois; third of five children of Edmund Cone (a physician) and Anna Mary (Jack) Carr; attended Ohio State University, 1898; transferred to Mount Holyoke College for two years; University of Chicago, B.S., 1905, Ph.D. in chemistry, 1910.

Emma Perry Carr, an influential organic and physical chemist, headed the chemistry department at Mount Holyoke College for over 30 years. Attracted to chemistry early in her academic career, Carr was one of only a handful of women students entering Ohio State University in 1898. She studied there with the noted scientist William McPherson, then transferred to Mount Holyoke in Massachusetts where she studied for two years and served as a chemistry assistant for another three. She did her advanced work with Alexander Smith and Julius Steiglitz at the University of Chicago, receiving her Ph.D. in 1910. Carr then returned to Mount Holyoke as an associate professor of chemistry; within three years, she was named full professor and chair of the department. Although the college was not a well-endowed research university, she

built the chemistry department into a unique and important research facility.

With her colleague, organic chemist Dorothy Hahn (1876–1950), Carr initiated a series of group research projects in the application of physical chemistry to organic problems, the most important of which involved the synthesis and analysis of complex organic compounds by absorption spectra of organic compounds. Since ultraviolet absorption spectroscopy was new in the United States, she traveled to Ireland and Germany to study innovative techniques with scientists in the field. During the 1930s, Carr received grants from the National Research Council and the Rockefeller Foundation that allowed her to pursue a group research investigation of simple unsaturated hydrocarbons. The study ultimately contributed to the understanding of the carbon-carbon double bond, an important link in chemistry. For her contribution, Carr was awarded numerous honorary degrees and, in 1937, was chosen by the American Chemical Society as the first recipient of the Garvan Medal for distinguished service in chemistry by an American woman. Carr was also an inspirational teacher and mentor, and the work of her research group stimulated the interest of women in chemistry and chemical research. Between 1920 and 1980, 93 Mount Holyoke graduates would go on to receive doctorate degrees in the discipline.

Carr retired from Mount Holyoke in 1946 and was succeeded by Mary Lura Sherrill (1888–1968), with whom she later shared the James Flack Norris Award of the American Chemical Society (1957) for distinguished achievement in the teaching of chemistry. Although well into her 70s, Carr remained active in the laboratory work on the spectrographic program, continuing to reinterpret her original conclusions in light of new discoveries in the field. She also remained active in the South Hadley community and, in 1948, was elected as a representative to the Town Meeting. In 1964, Carr took up residence in a rest home in Evanston, Illinois. She died there in 1972.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts