Women of Thought: Our Origins
BWIS was the brainchild of Harriet Martin of the Research Library, Technical Information Division, and Victoria Mclane of the National Nuclear Data Center, Department of Nuclear Energy.
We were originally conceived in January 1979 with no name and a single idea in mind—to send BNL’s working women into the local schools as role models for students. We were to speak about our careers as women in science, the professions, and technical fields—with the hope of informing and inspiring.
We made our debut on February 14, 1979—Valentine’s Day—at 8 p.m. at the Bay Shore-Brightwaters Public Library. The next day—Susan B. Anthony Day - we were engaged at the Ward Melville High School, Setauket. Having established a mission and commitment to work together, the founders first named themselves BNL Scientific and Professional Women.
Martin had come up with the idea for a panel after spending a year working with her local school district on complying with Title IX of the Educational Amendment Act of 1972, which requires schools receiving federal money to provide equal educational opportunities for girls and boys. After joining the BNL staff in February 1977, she realized that the women working at the Lab were a heretofore unknown resource of role models for school children in the local communities.
In the 1950’s—though there had been no question in Mclane’s mind—her high school guidance counselor had questioned her decision to study physics and become a nuclear physicist—because she was a girl. So, in December 1978, when Martin asked her to talk to female freshmen science majors at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, Mclane went, hoping to be supportive of their decision to become women in science.
During discussions with the students, Mclane realized that the young women before her were still questioning whether their decision to become scientists was the right one for females. So, there was no question that Mclane had to join Martin in organizing the panel.
Mclane suggested the name One Mind for the speakers’ program, taking to heart the words of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato: “Nothing can be more absurd than the practice which prevails in our country of men and women not following the same pursuits with all their strength and with one mind; for thus the state, instead of being whole, is reduced to half.”
The Early Years
In addition to encouraging students, the founders quickly learned that they benefited from each other's support for their endeavors as working women. They had the sensibility to know, however, that mutual support was not sufficient—that they had to increase the Laboratory's awareness of the contributions made by women in the sciences, professions, and technical fields, as well as to help Brookhaven better enable women to do the best job possible.
Inspired by their success with One Mind, they enlarged their scope, renamed themselves Brookhaven Women in Science, and met on September 26, 1979. They were granted a certificate of incorporation on November 19, 1982, from the Regents of the University of the State of New York.
On September 25, 1984, BWIS was granted a 501(c)(3) non-profit status and is currently supported by Brookhaven Science Associates (BSA) and membership fees. The organization continues to be run entirely by employee volunteers.
Friends of the Lab, Friends of the Community
BWIS continues to support the academic and professional advancement of girls, young women, and professionals by offering annual awards, outreach events, and various networking opportunities at the Laboratory and in the community. We advocate policies and practices that continue to enhance quality of life and work-life balance.
BWIS also contributes to the greater community by providing a platform for women to present their work and increasing community access to diverse viewpoints through the BWIS Speaker Series, and reaching out to schools, community groups, and professional organizations to support science education and professional development.
Some of our current initiatives include establishing a permanent display emphasizing diversity of Lab employees, improving Lab's parental leave policy, and expanding internship access to high school seniors and college first year students.
When Brookhaven Women in Science (BWIS) first met in 1979, the group could not have foreseen that, in 25 years, their network would have accomplished so much at and for Brookhaven Lab. An interdisciplinary, not-for-women only organization, BWIS has compiled accomplishments that, over the years, have benefited the entire Laboratory community, as well as the surrounding community of future women scientists.
- Thousands of Long Island high school and college students, both female and male, have been encouraged to consider scientific or technical careers by BWIS members, as a result of BWIS participation since its inception in Brookhaven Lab’s speakers’ bureau.
- Approximately 60 prominent women in science, engineering or medicine have been invited by BWIS since 1980 to present technical seminars or popular lectures open to all at the Laboratory.
- Women in science career days have been held almost every two years since 1981, encouraging hundreds of female high school students, who come to the Laboratory with their teachers and guidance counselors, to consider careers in science and engineering.
- BWIS and Battelle, the non-profit science and technology company that manages Brookhaven Lab with Stony Brook University as Brookhaven Science Associates, established five $1,000 scholarships in 1999 that were awarded annually to five female high school students who excelled in science or mathematics and were enrolled in the five school districts surrounding the Laboratory. This award was discontinued in 2009.
- Since 1995, BWIS has bestowed the annual $1,000 Gertrude Scharff Goldhaber Award to an outstanding female physics graduate student who is performing her thesis research at Brookhaven Lab or enrolled at Stony Brook University, in memory of the world-renowned nuclear physicist who was the first female Ph.D. to join the Laboratory’s scientific staff.
- Annually since 1986, a Long Island woman who is returning to school following an interruption in her studies to pursue her education in the sciences, engineering or mathematics has been the recipient of the $2,000 Renate W. Chasman Scholarship, which honors the memory of the accelerator physicist whose work underlies today’s synchrotron light sources world wide.
- As a result of the initiative of BWIS to ensure that the child-care needs of all Laboratory employees and facility-users who are parents of young children are met, the first facility in the nation dedicated to child care built by the U.S. Department of Energy was established at Brookhaven Lab in 1990.
- Because of BWIS’s efforts to extend the ability to take maternity leave to male employees, Brookhaven Lab’s policy on parental leave was instituted in 1988, permitting both women and men employees to take up to three months of leave following the birth or adoption of a child.
- In 1982, a branch of a federal credit union was established at Brookhaven Lab, as a result of a BWIS proposal to ensure equal credit opportunity for all Laboratory employees and facility-users.
Speaking Our Minds
To increase the Laboratory's awareness of the accomplishments of women in science and to provide our members with role models of their own, BWIS initiated its seminar-lecture series in 1980. To date, hundreds of respected women scientists and women prominent in related fields have presented their cutting-edge research some offering their thoughts on diversity and inclusion along with topics ranging from carcinogens to computers to crystallography. BWIS continues its Speaker Series to this day, with an emphasis on diversity of speaker and topic.