Maltby, Margaret E. (1860–1944)

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Maltby, Margaret E. (1860–1944)

American physicist and educator . Name variations: Minnie Maltby; Margaret Eliza Maltby. Born Minnie Maltby on December 10, 1860, in Bristolville, Ohio; died on May 3, 1944, in New York City; daughter of Edmund Maltby and Lydia Jane (Brockway) Maltby; Oberlin College, B.A., 1882, M.A., 1891; attended Art Students League, 1882–83; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, B.S., 1891; University of Göttingen, Germany, Ph.D., 1895; never married; children: Philip Randolph Meyer (adopted 1902).

Born on December 10, 1860, on the family farm in Bristolville, Ohio, Margaret Maltby was originally christened "Minnie" by her two older sisters. At her earliest opportunity, she legally changed her name to Margaret Eliza. Although she initially selected art as a career, and did, in fact, graduate from Oberlin College with a B.A. in 1882 and spend a year studying at the Art Students League in New York City, a growing interest in chemistry and physics led her to enroll at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1887. While at MIT, Maltby developed her teaching skills as a physics instructor at nearby Wellesley College (1889–93). She graduated from MIT with a bachelor's of science degree in 1891, and stayed on to do postgraduate work. In 1893, she took a hiatus from teaching to attend the University of Göttingen in Germany on a traveling scholarship and, in 1895, became the first American woman to receive a Ph.D. from the university. The subject of her dissertation was the measurement of high electrolytic resistances. A second scholarship from the Association of Collegiate Alumnae allowed her to stay in Germany for postdoctoral work.

Maltby returned briefly to the United States, during which time she headed the physics department at Wellesley College and then taught physics and mathematics at Lake Erie College in Ohio. In 1898, she joined Friedrich Kohlrausch, her mentor and the president of the Physikalish-Technische Reichsanstalt in Charlottenburg, Germany, as his research assistant. She remained in Germany until 1899, when she once again returned to America to work in theoretical physics at Clark University with A.G. Webster.

In 1900, Maltby began a long association with Barnard College, first serving as an instructor in chemistry until transferring to the physics department in 1903. She served as adjunct professor until 1913, and from 1913 until her retirement in 1931 as assistant professor and chair of the department. (She was never appointed to a full professorship.) Her reputation in the highly male-dominated field of physics was secure; in 1906, she was listed in the first edition of American Men and Women of Science as one of the 1,000 most important scientists in the country. Her name remained on the list throughout the next six editions of the publication, although in the course of her tenure at Barnard, Maltby became so involved with her teaching and administrative duties that she found little time for research. As a teacher, she was thorough and hard working, and insisted that her students exhibit the same characteristics; she was happy to provide individual assistance if necessary.

Maltby was a strong advocate for securing opportunities for capable women in graduate and postdoctoral programs. From 1912 to 1929, she served on the fellowship committee of the American Association of University Women (AAUW), chairing the organization from 1913 to 1924; in 1926, the AAUW established the Margaret E. Maltby Fellowship. In 1929, she published A History of the Fellowships Awarded by the American Association of University Women, 1888–1929. Maltby received considerable recognition and participated in numerous organizations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She was elected a fellow of the American Physical Society, and in 1960 her photograph was included in the American Journal of Physics where she was one of eight physicists profiled, and the only woman.

Although she never married, Maltby had adopted Philip Randolph Meyer, the orphaned son of a close friend, in 1902. Throughout her life, she enjoyed music, frequently attending the opera and symphony, and prior to her retirement conducted the first known course in the physics of music. Margaret Maltby died on May 3, 1944, at the age of 83.


Ogilvie, Marilyn Bailey. Women in Science. Boston, MA: Cambridge Press, 1993.

Sicherman, Barbara, and Carol Hurd Green. Notable American Women: The Modern Period: A Biographical Dictionary. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1980.

Judith C. Reveal , freelance writer, Greensboro, Maryland