Cornell University

Missouri compromise: tenure or freedom?
New evidence clarifies why Barbara McClintock left academe

— Kass, LB

This article was first drafted in the summer of 1998, following a visit to the University of Missouri, and other archives, to pursue documents for writing an intellectual biography of Barbara McClintock (see MNL 71, p. iv; Kass and Provine 1999a; Kass 1999a). My investigation, unexpectedly, has uncovered a wealth of materials, which led me to pursue additional leads. As a consequence, it has slowed the completion of the biography, but has allowed me to present documented accounts of McClintock’s life and work at seminars, conferences (i.e., Kass and Provine 1997; Kass 1999b), symposia (i.e., Kass, 2000a, 2002), and in book chapters (i.e., Kass and Bonneuil 2004). Last summer, I presented a brief account of McClintock’s career at Missouri in a Genetics Perspectives article (Kass 2003). In the spirit of maize cooperation, and at the urging of many colleagues in the maize genetics community, I present here a detailed account of the events that motivated Barbara McClintock to resign from her Assistant Professorship at Missouri and accept a staff position at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, Department of Genetics, at Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island, New York. I welcome comments on this draft and request records or documents that will make the story even more complete.

In 1983 maize geneticist Barbara McClintock became the first woman to receive an unshared Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology. This award, coupled with a newly published biography by Evelyn Fox Keller, brought international attention to McClintock and to her research on transposable elements. With this recognition, “she was instantly transformed into a scientific heroine and a darling of the media” (Keller 1993: vii). Legends of McClintock’s life were soon perpetuated as interest in women in science was increasing, and as society became mindful of discrimination against women (Rossiter 1982: 242–243). Keller based her biography of McClintock chiefly upon her scientific writings and on Keller’s interviews with McClintock and her contemporaries. From these many recollections (memories) and oral histories Keller composed a view of McClintock’s life experiences. The popular press embellished and modified these stories — employing sensational headlines heralding discrimination against McClintock. “Nobel Prize winner’s tenure denial illustrates an academic problem” (Anonymous 1985), is but one example. McClintock never said she had been denied tenure at Missouri, as Keller’s biography makes clear (see also Kass 2003). Comfort (2001: 64–65) attempts to resolve conflicts between oral histories and documents in light of currently accepted academic guidelines, and suggests that McClintock left her position for “personal reasons.”

In writing an intellectual biography of Barbara McClintock, I used her memories (Kass and Provine 1999a; Provine and Sisco 1980) as a guide to seek documents from the era under study. Biographers are fortunate when those recollections lead to primary sources about the lives of their subjects. Unexpectedly, I found an unusual abundance of documents that provided a vivid example of the unreliability of memories. Although memories and recollections provide valuable insights into a person’s feelings (Provine and Sisco 1980), research has shown that they do not necessarily disclose what really transpired during the person’s lifetime (Schacter and Scarry 2000: 349; Rupp 1998: 228). I used contemporaneous documents to reexamine a major story that has been perpetuated about McClintock: that she was denied tenure at the University of Missouri.

As I compared the records with the recollections (Kass 2002, 2003; see also Kass & Provine 1997, 1998, 1999a; Kass 1998, 1999b, 2000a, b; Kass and Bonneuil 2004), I confirmed Schacter’s (2001:163) findings that both memories and legends are influenced by societal culture. For example, as discrimination against women was recognized, McClintock’s life was placed into the context of the revived women’s movement. She resisted, however, the idea of being a role model of a successful woman in science who could succeed despite the odds. Here I show how her story is a complex one, exhibiting both support and discrimination, and is an example of how we recall events to fit our current beliefs.

I gathered original documentation from many collections in archives and libraries in several states. Previously, scholars thought that these letters, records, and other contemporaneous archival documents were missing. I found them in regional state libraries and institutional archives at state universities and agricultural colleges. Applying these sources, I have answered questions left unresolved by accounts that relied heavily on oral history interviews (i.e., Keller 1993, Chapters 5 & 7; Comfort 2001, Chapter 3, and many newspaper accounts and biographical entries in encyclopedias and elsewhere). I demonstrate how these materials clarify memories, and show that the documented history of Barbara McClintock is more surprising and complex than the legends.

L. J. Stadler invited Barbara McClintock to join his research group at the University of Missouri beginning in September 1936 (Table 1; Figure 1). She and George Beadle were considered for two separate appointments as early as April 1935. Although Beadle initially planned to accept their offer he instead joined the faculty at Harvard, while McClintock was hired on the very strong recommendation of a committee appointed by the President of the University of Missouri. W. J. Robbins, Head of the Department of Botany and a Cornell alumnus, chaired the committee, which included Stadler and W. C. Curtis, Chairman of the Department of Zoology, and two other members. McClintock had first met Stadler when he came to work with R. A. Emerson, Head of the Plant Breeding Department, at Cornell University in 1925–1926, as a National Research Council (NRC) Fellow. Upon completing her Ph.D. in 1927, she remained at Cornell as an instructor. She later conducted part of her NRC Fellowship in the Biological Sciences (1931–1933) in Stadler’s laboratory at Missouri. At that time, Stadler had suggested one of her initial research problems involving mutations in irradiated maize plants, and he also supplied McClintock with the genetic corn stocks for her investigations. They worked cooperatively, but published independently. Stadler was one of several prominent geneticists who “very strongly” recommended McClintock for a Guggenheim Fellowship that supported her work at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin-Dahlem, Germany, and the University of Freiburg during the winter of 1933–1934 (Provine and Sisco 1980; American Men of Science (AMS) 1938: 891]. By April 1934, after approximately 6 months in Nazi Germany, McClintock returned to Cornell, where she completed her fellowship but worried about finding a job. She and many of her postdoctoral colleagues, including George Beadle, Charles Burnham, and Marcus Rhoades, found no permanent job opportunities in their chosen fields owing to a worldwide depression that left countless people homeless and destitute.

In 1934, R. A. Emerson was awarded a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to support the Maize Genetics Cooperation at Cornell University for 5 years. He recognized McClintock’s abilities toward this enterprise and requested a separate grant-in-aid to hire her as his research assistant at a good annual salary for the time of $1,800, which was renewed in 1935 [Kass 2003, Kass and Bonneuil 2004; Rockefeller Foundation Archive Center (RF), Sleepy Hollow, NY].

By 1936, Stadler and Curtis collaboratively procured funds from the Missouri Agricultural Experiment Station, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the University of Missouri, and from the Rockefeller Foundation, to support “A Regional Laboratory of Plant Genetics” at Missouri. They secured Rockefeller funding based partly on a rationale that McClintock could be hired as a member of their research team (Curtis 1949: 169). In summarizing the proposed use of the Rockefeller Foundation grant for support of work in genetics at Missouri, Stadler wrote: “Doctor McClintock is unquestionably the best cytologist who could have been appointed and is in my opinion unsurpassed in her field.” During earlier negotiations for the grant, F. B. Hanson, Assistant Director of the Rockefeller Foundation, was told that McClintock was reported to be the best plant cytologist in the world and could be hired at a relatively small salary. The Rockefeller Foundation initially awarded the grant for 3 years and renewed it in 1939 for an additional five years to fund their plant genetics research and facilities. Had she taken the USDA appointment she probably would not have been encumbered by teaching responsibilities but may have been less autonomous. When interviewed in the 1970s and 1980s, McClintock said she believed Stadler had made the job for her at Missouri, and apparently she was uncomfortable being placed in such a precarious position (McClintock pers. com. 1973; Provine and Sisco 1980; Keller 1993: 81–83). She may not have been aware, however, that during negotiations with the Rockefeller Foundation she had been identified as the best plant cytologist in the world for their appointment; or that when the Foundation renewed their grant in 1939, it was contingent upon the University of Missouri assuming all responsibility for fundamental research in genetics by 1944, and committing to offer her a permanent research position within the genetics research project. As a result, McClintock held a regular faculty appointment at the University of Missouri.

Members of Stadler’s genetics research group were supported by different funding agencies and belonged to various departments and Colleges throughout the University (Table 1; Figure 1). The University of Missouri, founded in 1839, is considered the oldest public institution of higher learning west of the Mississippi. Throughout its history the university was the victim of sectional disputes that characterized Missouri society, and state funding was not equal to the institution’s needs or to its aspirations. In 1863 the Missouri State Legislature accepted the terms of the Morrill Act for the endowment of a college of agriculture and mechanic arts, and after many political debates, the new College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts was established (1907) in the University at Columbia (Vilas 1939: 104–137; Stephens 1962: 174–175, 355; Olson and Olson 1988: 3–28). McClintock was officially a faculty member in the Department of Botany, College of Arts and Sciences (Curtis 1949: 169), and, as she wrote several years later to her friend Marcus Rhoades, she was “supposedly hired for research.” Upon beginning her faculty position at Missouri, however, McClintock was expected to, and did, participate in departmental faculty committees, teach undergraduate and graduate students (Table 2), advise and direct graduate students’ projects (Table 3) and act as a consultant for both resident staff and visiting researchers (Table 4).

During these years she continued to attend and present papers at national meetings of the Genetics Society of America (GSA). Her abstracts were preprinted in their Records (1936, 1937) and were subsequently published in Genetics (McClintock 1937, 1938a). In 1938, she attended the GSA summer meeting at the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, MA (Figure 3) and the winter meetings in Richmond, Virginia. She was a member of the Program Committee, along with Stadler, who as President of the Society had appointed her the representative to the Editorial Committee of the America Journal of Botany (Records GSA 1938: 15, 19). That year, she and Milislav Demerec, formerly a student colleague trained in corn genetics at Cornell, were elected to the office of Vice President and President, respectively, for 1939 (Records GSA 1939: 18–19). In 1940, she was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). During this period, McClintock confided to several of her geneticist colleagues that these demands on her time had made it difficult to devote her efforts completely to research. To some extent these responsibilities, which may not have been a significant part of her earlier experiences, were unexpected limitations on her research time.

In a 1980 interview (Provine and Sisco 1980), McClintock indicated that she had found herself restricted by the University of Missouri bureaucracy. She had become accustomed to the freedom she had as a student, instructor, and research assistant at Cornell University, where graduate students in her college were free to choose their own thesis committees, and where both students and faculty members could choose their own research problems. Students in the plant sciences were permitted, and often encouraged, to work in the labs at any hour of the day or night, when necessary. At Missouri, deans and department chairs made such decisions, and both faculty and students had to secure permits if they wished to work in the buildings past 10 PM (Provine and Sisco 1980). McClintock knew from experience that scientific research often required an irregular work schedule, but the restrictions at the University of Missouri were different from the atmosphere to which she had been accustomed. Within two years of receiving her faculty appointment at Missouri, McClintock was dissatisfied with her position. George Sprague Sr. recalled that McClintock argued with Stadler about many things and that she often left Stadler’s office in tears. Writing to her friend and collaborator Marcus Rhoades about other matters, she let him know that she was “becoming more serious about the possibility of looking for another job.” Rhoades and other colleagues understood her desire to move and recommended her for positions at other institutions when the opportunity arose.

After returning from “a long vacation — an extensive trip through the north-west and the west” during the summer of 1940 — McClintock wrote to her friend and former postdoctoral colleague Charlie Burnham that she had decided she “must look for another job.” In that letter, she concluded that there was “nothing more” for her at Missouri: “I am an assistant professor at $3,000 and I feel sure that is the limit for me.” She added that the job was not “too secure,” and that she could “not make [herself] needed in the University. If I am going to move I shall have to make it soon. … I feel that I ought to get something lined up this year, if possible.“ Her comments may have resulted from recent negotiations to attract Stadler to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), where he had been on leave during winter and spring of 1940 and had only returned in mid-June. While Stadler was at Caltech, T. H. Morgan offered him an appointment in his Division of Biology. During those negotiations the President of the University of Missouri suggested that if Stadler should leave Missouri his genetics group might be “liquidated.” Although these communications were not publicized, members of Stadler’s genetics group heard rumors about the possibility of his not returning to Missouri and were concerned over their prospects for the future (Crouse 1992: 30). At the same time, possibly without Stadler’s knowledge, he and other notable geneticists were being considered for the next Directorship of the Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Department of Genetics at Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island, New York [CIW/CSH]. Moreover, by October of 1940, Vannevar Bush, Carnegie’s recently appointed President, expressed doubts about Stadler’s qualifications; and by April of 1941, he was eliminated from consideration. Milislav Demerec, then Assistant Director at CIW/CSH, Barbara McClintock, and many others, however, would soon be considered for the Director’s position.

Stadler remained at Missouri, and by early November 1940, after his research group had moved into the new Genetics Building, McClintock confided to Rhoades that things were going all right and “being together in the new building has helped a lot.” Nevertheless, she expressed her concerns for “friction” over a loss of future funding, “trouble with students,” and a problem with “Miss Guthrie,” her colleague in the Zoology Department, who intimidated a student desiring to work with McClintock instead of Stadler. By the end of November, she wrote that she was experiencing “one interruption after another” caused by commitments to “seven graduate students” (Table 3) and visiting researchers (Table 4), and she even considered “not trying to do any research” the following term.

By year’s end 1940, McClintock learned that Milislav Demerec (1895–1966; Figure 2) planned to invite her, and many other prominent geneticists, to give a presentation at the 1941 Cold Spring Harbor Symposium on Quantitative Biology. These symposia had been held at The Biological Laboratory [Bio-Lab] at Cold Spring Harbor since 1933, and were sponsored by the Long Island Biological Association (LIBA). Demerec, who had recently been appointed Director of the Bio-Lab, had discussed the upcoming symposium with McClintock, and other potential participants, during the 1940 Genetics Society meetings, held in Philadelphia with the AAAS. He subsequently issued invitations for the June 1941 Symposium and invited many of the participants to work cooperatively at the Biological Laboratory during that summer. Demerec was concurrently Assistant Director of the Department of Genetics, CIW/CSH, which physically adjoined the Bio-Lab. As an officer of both institutions, he discussed with his director, Albert F. Blakeslee, how their two organizations might cooperate in “the advancement of genetic study.” They established a “closer collaboration” between these two organizations by offering McClintock and other guest investigators “opportunities for summer research” at their adjoining facilities along the inner harbor at Cold Spring Harbor (Blakeslee 1941: 211). In his first annual report as Director of The Biological Laboratory, Demerec (1941: 22–24) described the cooperation between his institution and the CIW’s Department of Genetics (Demerec would become Director of both institutions by 1943).

On February 5, 1941, Albert F. Blakeslee (1874–1954), then Director of the Department of Genetics, CIW/CSH, invited Barbara McClintock to spend the summer of 1941 as a guest investigator in his department. Blakeslee encouraged McClintock to come to CIW/CSH by explaining that her good friend Marcus Rhoades would be planting his corn there that summer and he was sure there would be plenty of land “in this plot for you also.” The previous summer (July 1, 1940), Marcus M. Rhoades (1903–1989), McClintock’s trusted friend and former research colleague at Cornell University, began his position as Associate Professor of Botany at Columbia University in New York City, an hour’s drive west of Cold Spring Harbor. When Rhoades was considering leaving his U.S.D.A. position at Arlington Farm, in Washington, D.C., to accept a faculty appointment at Columbia, Blakeslee had assured him that there would be facilities for growing his corn at CIW/CSH. Within the week of receiving Blakeslee’s invitation, McClintock replied that she would be pleased to have the opportunity to work in his department, and that she would communicate with Rhoades about space for planting corn.

Several months before receiving Blakeslee’s invitation to CIW/CSH, McClintock learned that he would retire the following year (1941) and that Demerec was a contender for the Director’s position. She had been looking for an opportunity to find another job. Would Demerec’s appointment as Director lead to an offer with his group? McClintock had known Demerec from their student years together at Cornell, where he had been a graduate student of maize genetics under Rollins Adams Emerson (1873–1947) in the Department of Plant Breeding, and where McClintock had studied with Lester W. Sharp (1887–1961) in the Botany Department. When McClintock was consulted regarding Blakeslee’s replacement she “pumped for Demerec.” She thought he would make a good Director because he seemed to be “honest and sincere,” which she believed was “a great necessity for cooperation.” Within a month of receiving Blakeslee’s and Demerec’s invitations, McClintock must have given serious thought to her alternatives, because shortly thereafter she told L. J. Stadler, the head of her research group at Missouri, that she had “decided to quit at the end of the term.”

Before making a final decision to leave her job, McClintock was determined to clarify the permanence and responsibilities of her position at the University of Missouri. If Stadler should leave, would his genetics group be eliminated as rumored? Had her department chair recommended her promotion and would the dean accept his recommendation? Would she receive a salary raise commensurate with her qualifications? Her concerns were valid, because, as described above, only one year earlier (1940) Stadler was offered an appointment at California Institute of Technology [Caltech], and the President of the University of Missouri had recommended the liquidation of the “Genetics Project” if Stadler did not return. Missouri retained Stadler by offering him his highest priority — a reorganization of the administration of his program —, which was tied to a large salary increase. The former would insure a strong commitment to the development of his genetics research projects. Stadler did not accept the Caltech appointment, but McClintock was convinced that he was considering other offers and might leave in the future; Dean W. C. Curtis would shortly confirm her suspicions. Furthermore, McClintock anticipated that she would not be promoted because she believed she was not needed at Missouri.

On Friday, April 18, 1941, McClintock met with W. C. Curtis, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, to clarify the responsibilities of her position. Curtis had been named Acting Dean in September 1939 and was permanently appointed in April 1940 (Curtis 1949: 147). She summarized the outcome of their meeting in a letter to her confidant Marcus Rhoades. She wrote that she had “applied for a leave of absence for next year,” and continued:

I had a long talk with the Dean (Curtis) … on Friday …. I wanted my situation clarified officially. It is rather dark. He wouldn’t make any statement about possibility for advancement nor would he state whether I would be retained if Stadler left. If I did go on permanent tenure and Stadler left, he would’nt [sic] state what they would do with me other than that my duties would be changed. I have concluded definitely I will have to get something else to do. This job, regardless of permanent tenure, would certainly kill my vitality because of the attitude the University has taken. Even permanent tenure is no inducement. When one is definitely not desired, it is a great handicap to one’s enthusiasm.

Learning that McClintock had taken a leave of absence for the coming year, Rhoades promptly arranged for her to spend it as a guest investigator in his Department of Botany at Columbia University during the academic year 1941–42, “with the privileges of the laboratory and of the University.” In responding to Rhoades’ news of the forthcoming invitation to Columbia, and of a possible opportunity at Cold Spring Harbor [if Demerec were appointed], she remarked that it sounded “very encouraging” but she hoped that “the female element won’t be a barrier as it has been so much so in the past.”

McClintock’s meeting with Curtis had also confirmed her suspicion that Stadler was again considering leaving, and she wrote to Rhoades on May 16, 1941, that Stadler had offered to take her to CIW/CSH if he got the job as Director of the Department of Genetics. “Stadler was anxious to get the job for himself,” she confided to Rhoades. She felt certain that he would like “a much more influential position with more prestige.” Nevertheless, McClintock expressed her misgivings about Stadler, asserting, “I shall never trust him again.”

During a conversation in May with Frank Blair Hanson, Associate Director of The Natural Sciences at the Rockefeller Foundation, Curtis told of his meeting with McClintock. Hanson noted this interpretation:

“McClintock … has got the idea that the large increase in salary which it was necessary to give to Stadler in order to keep him at Missouri worked to prevent her from being promoted to an Assoc. Professorship, and she has requested a year’s leave of absence, stating that there was a high probability she will not return to the University if she can find another post.… [The administration recognizes] that they have one of the outstanding cytologists of the world but … they will probably also have a very difficult personality on their hands if she returns to the University.”

McClintock’s request for a leave was acted upon quickly. Records in the University files, dated May 9, 1941, state that it was ordered, upon the recommendation of the Dean of the Faculty of the College of Arts and Science and the President of the University, that McClintock be “reappointed as Assistant Professor of Botany without salary for the year September 1, 1941 to August 31, 1942; and that she be granted leave of absence without salary” for that same period of time. Although Curtis made no promise to McClintock for advancement, it is evident, from a note he made the following month, while negotiating her one-year replacement, that he was aware that she was eligible for promotion.

Papers deposited in University of Missouri Archives indicate that the University administration presumed that McClintock would return to Missouri following a leave of absence for 1941–1942, if she did not find another appointment. The University Directory showed that she was “on leave without salary 1941–42 academic year,” and the 1942–43 University Course Announcement showed that she was scheduled to teach all of the courses she had offered before she began her leave (Table 2). Additionally, the correspondence of her contemporaries, and communications with Stadler, indicate that she had “not finally decided against returning to Missouri,” following her year’s leave.

Curtis’ account of why McClintock requested a leave of absence, it seems, differed from Stadler’s understanding that she wanted to leave because her job lacked permanence. Stadler did not wish to see McClintock leave permanently, but he appeared concerned about her expressed dissatisfaction with her University of Missouri appointment. When McClintock told Stadler she was planning to quit, he communicated with Rhoades, “in strict confidence,” about a position for her at “Columbia, CSH, or New York Botanic Garden.” Stadler wrote that McClintock had never been happy at Missouri and was completely “fed up with the job.” He believed, “There is nothing in the local situation except her own feeling to make it necessary for her to move.” He told Rhoades that McClintock was “definitely slated for a promotion this spring, and [C. M.] Tucker [who had replaced Robbins as chair of the Botany Department] has told her so.” He continued, McClintock had expressed concern that the job was “not permanent” … and if “she can’t get established in a research job that she considers permanent, she’d rather just quit now and go into something else.” Stadler reiterated McClintock’s comments that the Missouri “genetics project might be closed in time of stress” and that “research jobs are a luxury to a University.” Stadler explained that at the time she was hired the University gave “official assurance that the research jobs would be just as permanent as teaching appointments.” He conjectured: “Presumably the promotion this year would make her an associate professor, which is the grade here at which permanent tenure becomes automatic.” Stadler concluded that the “crux of the matter is that she is not happy here.”

Learning that McClintock might leave Missouri, Stadler immediately began negotiations to replace her for one year. All negotiations were contingent on McClintock returning to Missouri for the 1942–1943 academic year. Neither Stadler nor Curtis believed they could find an American scientist to replace McClintock for one year at the salary they could offer, $3,000. They therefore considered scientists who had been driven from their native countries, by the war in Europe, to seek refuge in neutral territories. In March of 1941, Stadler invited Emil Heitz (1892–1965), to come to Missouri as a Visiting Professor. Heitz and his family had been forced to leave Germany because of their Jewish ancestry, and they were then living in Basel, Switzerland. Heitz, also a world recognized cytologist, had worked with both plant and animal tissues, and was responsible for important contributions on salivary gland chromosomes in dipterans. Heitz and Bauer’s morphological descriptions of drosophila salivary gland chromosomes preceded and supported Painter’s (1933, 1934) genetic investigations of these chromosomes. Heitz agreed to become a Visiting Professor of Botany at the University of Missouri for one year effective September 1941, at a salary of $3,000. Dozens of communications between Heitz and the University administration indicate, however, that he postponed his acceptance of the appointment until the “end of hostilities” because of problems securing a visa, his fear of internment upon entering the United States, and lack of the University’s commitment to a permanent appointment. All negotiations with Heitz were based on the assumption that McClintock would return to Missouri following her leave of absence.

General Milieu
McClintock’s belief that the “female element [had been] a barrier” in the past may have loomed large in her desire to leave her academic position. McClintock remembered, more than 30 years later, that when she was hired at Missouri she was warned that if she were to marry she would lose her appointment. During an interview with Provine and Sisco in 1980, she recalled not desiring a University appointment because she did not want to be part of the “constant exclusion” that she felt both at Caltech and then at Missouri. One letter she wrote implies that some members of the Missouri genetics group held condescending attitudes towards women. She also recalled being excluded from University faculty and committee meetings (Provine and Sisco, 1980; Keller 1993: 81), but apparently this exclusion was not confined to her alone; as of 1939, University Policy did not include Assistant Professors in membership in the University Faculty, and evidently they were not invited to faculty meetings. Although McClintock’s department chairman requested that she participate in and contribute to departmental and University-wide professional activities, her feelings of exclusion, in part, may have been justified.

One of McClintock’s former colleagues at Missouri recalled that female faculty members were unwelcome in the Faculty Club with their male colleagues. Male faculty shared meals and conversations in the atmosphere of this fraternity, but women faculty did not have a place of their own to socialize. One campus organization that would have encouraged and supported women was Sigma Delta Epsilon (Graduate Women in Science, GWIS), whose Delta Chapter was founded at Missouri in 1924. This was an organization in which McClintock would not have felt welcome, for a variety of reasons. The Alpha Chapter was founded at Cornell in 1921, for the purpose of fellowship for women in science, although membership was by invitation only and their records show that McClintock had not been invited to join. That organization was apparently anti-Semitic in those early days and had McClintock been asked she may have declined. As a freshman she had broken her Delta Zeta sorority pledge (Cornellian 1920, Cornellian 1921) when she became aware of their discriminatory practices [anti-Semitic implied; Keller 1993: 33]. Similarly, she would not have been inclined to join the Delta Chapter of Sigma Delta Epsilon, at Missouri (Robbins 1971: 7). Moreover, Professor Guthrie was a charter member of that chapter and this alone may have precluded McClintock’s association.

The exclusion of women from male gatherings was not unique to the University of Missouri, of course, but seems to have been part of accepted practice regarding women faculty in most universities during that era (Rossiter 1982: 214, Rossiter 1995: 141–144, see also Chap. 7). On the contrary, McClintock and other women were welcome members of Cornell’s Synapsis Club, the Plant Breeding Department’s student/faculty, scientific/social organization. While a member of Synapsis Club, McClintock had been an active graduate student participant — attending weekly meetings and joining committees — and later she was elected treasurer of the organization. Consequently, as is indicated in her letter to Rhoades, McClintock would have favored an opportunity to reside at a research institution, such as CIW/CSH, where she hoped her gender would not be a matter of concern.

Another accepted practice in Missouri, and other formerly slave-holding states, that may have disturbed McClintock was a university policy that African-American students were discriminated against solely because of their race. Although Black students filed lawsuits to gain entrance to the University of Missouri, they were denied admittance because of state claims that separate but equal education was available at Lincoln University for Negroes at Jefferson City, Missouri. In December, 1938, the United States Supreme Court ruled that one of these students, who wished to study law, had to be admitted to the University “until a satisfactory law school is provided … for Negroes …”. It was customary and expected at that time that students attach photographs to their undergraduate and graduate school admission applications. McClintock may have been expressing her objections to having to play a part in this discrimination when she wrote to Stadler (at Caltech), that the applications from students had come in and she had “done the deeds to see their faces on the fellowship blanks,” implying that none of the faces were black.

Problems with University Administration
W. M. Robbins was head of the Botany Department and Dean of the Graduate Faculty when McClintock first arrived in Missouri in 1936. He was also a Cornell graduate, and seemed to have a good working relationship with McClintock. He cordially arranged for her to obtain funds to attend meetings, recommended her publications to other researchers, and extended her summer leave at Cornell University to continue a research project. His correspondence with colleagues shows that he recommended women for faculty and research appointments and he was disappointed with colleagues who would not consider them. Within the year, however, Robbins accepted the post of Professor of Botany at Columbia University and assumed Directorship of the New York Botanical Gardens. He left Missouri in February 1938, and was replaced by C. M. Tucker, a member of his department, recently promoted to Professor of Botany.

Tucker’s correspondence with McClintock was not as cordial as was Robbins’. His regard for women may be reflected in a letter of recommendation that he wrote for a recent male graduate:

“I should mention that his wife … secured a doctorate here.… She is admirably suited by inclination and temperament to be a decided asset to her husband. I mention this because I have found that the attitude of a wife is an important factor in the success or failure of a man engaged in creative work of any sort.”

Dean W. C. Curtis, who initially supported, encouraged, and arranged McClintock’s invitation to Missouri, did not seem to be prejudiced against women. He had female graduate students and recommended them highly for appointments at colleges and universities. Curtis respected the work of Dr. Mary Jane Guthrie and recommended her for Rockefeller Foundation (RF) research grants. They co-authored and revised a zoology textbook, and he recommended her promotion to Full Professor in 1937. Guthrie was a recognized leader in her field, having been awarded a star in zoology in the sixth edition of American Men of Science in 1938 (p. 591). McClintock’s former colleagues at Missouri suspected that Guthrie’s influence on Curtis played a role in his negative attitude towards McClintock. Although Guthrie succeeded Curtis as Head of the Department of Zoology in 1940, when Curtis became Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Faculty (Curtis 1949: 147), she is reputed to have “viewed McClintock as a rival.” George Sprague Sr., who worked in Stadler’s group with McClintock, recalled that Stadler and Mary Jane Guthrie were good friends (Figure 1). He thought the latter might consider McClintock encroaching on her territory — a view that can be supported by some evidence. In 1940–1941, McClintock’s Cytogenetics course replaced the Advanced Cytology class formerly taught by Guthrie and Stadler (Table 2).

At Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory, during the summer of 1940, Curtis discussed his concerns regarding McClintock with F. B. Hanson: he was convinced that she was a “trouble maker” and he attributed disparaging remarks about Stadler to her. Although this description may have been unfair, he clearly hoped “an offer may come her way so that she can have her career elsewhere than at Missouri.” Almost a year later, during negotiations for McClintock’s one-year replacement, Curtis communicated to President Middlebush that Tucker, Chair of Botany, preferred Heitz to McClintock because Heitz was “more distinguished” and the staff members would “find him helpful and interested not only in problems of genetics but also in other fields of botany.” Her location, now farther removed from the Botany Department, may have precipitated Tucker’s comment.

Teaching and Advising Responsibilities
McClintock had been told she was “hired for research,” yet every year she worked at Missouri she was committed to lecturing in graduate classes, advising graduate students, and coordinating student and faculty seminars (Tables 2 & 3). In her last year there (1940–41) she developed and taught (winter term 1941) the first graduate course offered in “Cytogenetics” at the University of Missouri. Stadler claimed it was the “best graduate course [he] had ever known.” Her meticulously prepared lecture notes for this class were completely written out and included full contemporary bibliographies and lists of slides for microscopic demonstrations and for visual aids. McClintock herself processed all the demonstration slides for the course. Anyone who has prepared class lectures would know from examining her notes that writing these lectures consumed hours of her time! McClintock wanted to restrict this class to a few graduate students who needed the course. She declared, in a letter to Rhoades, that there was always a “row of visitors” in her classes and “it always made it so much harder for [her].” She reasoned that keeping out visitors would enable her “to talk more informally to the students” and they would “feel freer to express themselves.” Several weeks later, she reported that although she wanted to “hold the group down to six students,” her “sympathies were worked upon” and she now had 11 students, and Swanson was “sitting in” (Table 4). If her duties were to be changed, as Curtis had warned during their meeting in April of 1941, she certainly would not have welcomed a change to additional teaching responsibilities; for she felt she would have no time for research.

Research and Publication Responsibilities
McClintock believed she was primarily expected to do research and to publish her results, and there is little doubt that she was dedicated to her research. Nevertheless, she acknowledged in correspondence with Rhoades that she had difficulty writing papers and became quite distressed whenever she was forced to write about her work. She agonized over manuscripts for months before sending them out for publication. She confessed, “At my tender age [38], I will never learn to write properly (nor spell!). It is always an ordeal that throws me into a depression from which it is hard to recover for I get an inferiority complex.” Although later in life she did not recall that she showed her papers to others before submitting them for publication (Provine and Sisco, 1980), her early correspondence, and acknowledgments in her published papers, indicate that she sent draft manuscripts to friends and colleagues for editing prior to submission. If she remained in a University position, it would be essential that she present papers at scientific meetings and publish in the prominent scientific journals of the day, but it seems she considered that even limited teaching responsibilities would prevent her from fulfilling that primary goal.

McClintock is reputed to have shunned scientific meetings in her later years. In contrast, University of Missouri Botany Department records show that during the 1930s she regularly attended annual meetings of the Genetics Society of America (GSA), with travel expenses covered by the University. She often presented seminars at neighboring universities, and participated in the GSA summer meetings at Woods Hole (Figure 3), as previously mentioned. During her first two years as Assistant Professor at Missouri she attended the annual GSA Christmas meetings (1936, 1937), where she contributed demonstration papers and published abstracts of the research she had conducted at Cornell between 1934 and 1936. Her cytological studies had been supported by the Rockefeller Foundation and were conducted while she was a research assistant in the Plant Breeding Department at Cornell. By that time Cornell’s Plant Breeding and Botany Departments were physically housed in the Plant Science Building, and McClintock had easy access to the facilities of both. Her research at Cornell was inspired by the investigations she did with Stadler (McClintock 1987) during her NRC Fellowship at Missouri between 1931 and 1933. McClintock returned to Cornell during the summers of 1937 through 1939 to continue this project. She soon published a complete account of that work, and the research that grew from the initial study (McClintock 1938b, 1938c). During the next three years, at the University of Missouri, she wrote three papers that continued those investigations (McClintock 1939, 1941a, b). The results she reported elucidated the mechanisms for the breakage-fusion-bridge cycles in maize, and would lead to her discovery of transposable elements. She submitted the third paper (McClintock 1941b) to Genetics just one month before leaving for the summer Symposium at Cold Spring Harbor. McClintock admitted that she had “struggled for four months on the paper” and that it was a “hell of a paper to write.” It appeared in print in September of 1941, four months after she began her leave of absence from Missouri.

Promotion and Tenure at University of Missouri
Consideration of other social and political conditions during this time reveals a lack of “equal opportunity” laws and a paucity of tenure review procedures for university faculty. Traditionally, university faculty members were appointed on recommendations from major professors or former employers because professors were expected to find jobs for their students. Not all universities followed the American Association of University Professors’ (AAUP) recommended guidelines for Tenure and Promotion as formulated in 1915, revised in 1925 and 1938, and finalized in 1940. Historically, tenure and/or promotions were made on recommendations of department chairs to deans and university presidents (as is commonly the practice at many colleges and universities today). There was (and still is) no guarantee that a positive recommendation for promotion would result in advancement or permanent appointment. Although Tucker, McClintock’s Department Chair, may have told her that he would recommend her for promotion to Associate Professor, as Stadler confidentially wrote in his letter to Rhoades, McClintock may have been aware that deans in general and Dean Curtis in particular did not have to accept such recommendations. Although Curtis was a founding member of the AAUP, and belonged to the University of Missouri’s AAUP Chapter, he did not consistently follow their guidelines, nor did he always accept recommendations from Department Chairs. He believed that it was his prerogative to make the final decision on hiring, firing, and promotion.

AAUP and Tenure at University of Missouri
A review of the Bulletin of the AAUP reveals that University of Missouri faculty members were not only cognizant of but were active participants in formulating AAUP statutes. W. C. Curtis had been a charter member of the AAUP, and served on its Committee A, Academic Freedom and Tenure, from 1932 though 1937. Although he had been a faithful member of the AAUP Missouri Chapter during his tenure as a faculty member at Columbia, he became an associate member, as required by their bylaws, upon his promotion to Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, beginning in 1940. L. J. Stadler was also a member of the University of Missouri’s AAUP Columbia Chapter, and served as its President in 1934 and 1935. McClintock was not a member of this AAUP Chapter; however, she may have been familiar with the AAUP guidelines for promotion and tenure. Her Department Chairman, C. M. Tucker, had been elected to the AAUP Missouri Chapter in 1939, and he, along with Curtis and Stadler, presumably was well versed in the rules and regulations governing tenure at the University of Missouri. McClintock most probably would not have been comfortable discussing the guidelines for her promotion with Mary Jane Guthrie, who by January, 1941 was University of Missouri AAUP Chapter President.

The 1940 AAUP Statement of Principles for Academic Tenure and Freedom was not meant to apply retroactively, and an appended interpretation states, “that all tenure claims of teachers appointed prior to the endorsement should be determined in accordance with the principles set forth in the 1925 Conference Statement on Academic Freedom and Tenure” [the latter interpreted as having a 10 year probationary period] (Joughin 1967: 33–39, 175). Records at the University of Missouri have not revealed which AAUP Statement of Principles (1940, 1938, or 1925) Stadler was considering when, in March of 1941, he wrote to Rhoades about McClintock’s pending promotion to Associate Professor, but published and unpublished documents show that 1) the University of Missouri’s Board of Curators published and approved its policy on tenure for Associate Professors and Full Professors, in 1938; 2) the University assumed full responsibility for McClintock’s salary as Assistant Professor beginning in 1939; and 3) in May 1941, McClintock was re-appointed Assistant Professor, for one year without salary, and simultaneously granted a leave of absence for the 1941–1942 academic year. I have not found Tucker’s letter recommending McClintock’s promotion or an official letter from Curtis accepting his recommendation. Although Curtis may have avoided a commitment to promote McClintock in April of 1941, a memo he wrote on May 24, 1941, concerning finding a replacement during her one-year leave of absence, reveals that Curtis obviously was aware that she was eligible for promotion to Associate Professor:

“Finally it should be noted that if McClintock were staying regularly next year [1941–42] and this question [her replacement] had not arisen, we should very properly be making her an Associate Professor at some increase in salary if money were available.”

The available documents indicate that 1) McClintock may have been eligible for tenure had Tucker recommended her for promotion to Associate Professor; 2) when McClintock met with Dean Curtis he did not promise possibilities for advancement or retention, but instead clarified that if she were to be tenured, and Stadler should leave, her duties would be changed — probably from a research professorship to an appointment that might include extensive teaching; and 3) if McClintock had been offered and had accepted permanent tenure she might have compromised her chances of remaining in a research appointment. McClintock believed that her Assistant Professor position was insecure, but an appointment with permanent tenure would not prevent future duties encumbered with teaching responsibilities and would most probably preclude time for research. These considerations, coupled with a possibility for a job opportunity at CIW/CSH, seemingly led to her decision to ask for a leave of absence to seek employment elsewhere.

Clearly, within two years of arriving at Missouri, McClintock seriously considered finding another position. Prior to accepting her Missouri appointment, she had confided to R. A. Emerson that she was reluctant to go there in the first place. Soon after arriving at Missouri she encountered problems she had not anticipated: teaching responsibilities (Table 2), limited secretarial assistance for preparing manuscripts, and a general atmosphere that she was not willing to accept. When she ultimately decided to take a one-year leave to seek employment elsewhere, she mused on alternative career options such as “going over into Meteorology;” since her undergraduate days she had pursued an interest in that area, and often thought about switching to that field (Provine and Sisco 1980, Creighton, Pers. Com. May 2, 1998). She also considered using her leave to complete “a book on cytogenetics,” which she and Rhoades began in 1938 at the invitation of L. C. Dunn, editor of Genetics. That book was to be third in the reestablished Columbia University monograph series (the first of which appeared in 1937, with Dobzhansky’s Genetics and the Origin of Species). Dunn’s request was a great honor and a measure of her esteem. She also proposed writing a “usable textbook in cytogenetics.” She was, however, pleased with the possibility of a research appointment at CIW/CSH and preferred it to her other options. McClintock had many reasons to leave Missouri, but lack of a firm promise of promotion with tenure did not seem to be her first consideration.

In McClintock’s later years, after the Carnegie Institution of Washington had honored her with the title of Distinguished Service Member, McClintock recalled that one day she got fed up with her position at Missouri and packed her bags and left (McClintock, pers. com., 1973; Provine and Sisco 1980; Keller, 1993: 83; Crouse 1992: 32). Her recollection may have revealed her determination of forty years earlier; however, it does not provide the picture of what led to her decision. Her letters to colleagues, particularly Rhoades and Burnham, show that she had been contemplating leaving Missouri for quite some time, and finally requested a leave of absence to consider finding an alternative position. Creighton had no recollection of McClintock mentioning leaving Missouri permanently — “If she had been denied tenure we would have talked about it, she said” (Creighton, pers. com. May 2, 1998). Had she not eventually been offered a permanent job in Carnegie’s Department of Genetics she might indeed have returned to Missouri. In May 1941, she prepared for her leave by carefully separating and packing her personal items from her lab materials and from her books. She wrote to Rhoades that if she needed the latter they could easily be sent to her. Although she was not happy at Missouri, Stadler’s and Curtis’ correspondence at the time indicates that she had not yet definitely decided to leave permanently.

McClintock left Missouri on June 1, 1941, and had planned to drive directly to her lodgings at the Bio-Lab at CSH, but she visited first with colleagues at Columbia University. During that summer, she lived in the facilities provided by the Long Island Biological Association and roomed with her former colleague Harriet Creighton. McClintock’s summer research assistant, Edward A. Weaver, who had recently completed the investigations for his Ph.D. under McClintock’s direction at Missouri, arrived shortly after. A colleague from Columbia University described McClintock’s June 21st presentation at the Cold Spring Harbor Symposium as “splendid … with a wealth of evidence … well given too” — it was work she had completed before beginning her one-year leave from Missouri (McClintock 1941c). In their annual reports, both Blakeslee (1941) and Demerec (1941) each summarized their success in bringing prominent geneticists to Cold Spring Harbor that summer. Blakeslee (1941: 211) reported that McClintock of the University of Missouri was a guest investigator in his department and Demerec (1941: 23) wrote that she and other guest investigators, Rhoades, Edgar Anderson, and Harriet Creighton, among others, conducted research on maize and worked cooperatively at the Bio-Lab that summer. Demerec stressed the advantages of his lab’s research atmosphere — emphasizing that, “scientific research cannot be carried on effectively with a rigid schedule and set working hours” (Demerec 1941: 25). McClintock would have been most comfortable in his unrestricted environment. Each of these maize cooperators described the results of their summer’s research in The Annual Report of the Biological Laboratory published in 1941 (Demerec 1941: 35–45). Recently, Harriet Creighton (pers. com. May 2, 1998) recalled that during that 1941 summer she helped prepare slides for Anderson’s research, and McClintock taught Anderson the corn sporocyte smear technique that she had perfected.

In July, McClintock participated in the Thursday “Evening Lecture” series sponsored jointly by the Journal Club of the Department of Genetics and the Bio-Lab. Dr. E. C. MacDowell chaired these sessions, which were “well attended by members of the two institutions and of the nearby hospitals.” She shared the platform with other prominent geneticists featured on the evening programs: Myron Gordon, a friend from her student years at Cornell; Edgar Anderson, Missouri Botanical Garden; Sewall Wright, University of Chicago; Alfred Mirsky, Rockefeller Institute; Max Delbruck from Vanderbilt University, working collaboratively that summer with Salvadore Luria; R. F. Kimball, Johns Hopkins University; and her former colleague, A. H. Sturtevant, from Caltech.

That summer, Stadler also participated in the 1941 Cold Spring Harbor Symposium and, while in New York, he contacted Frank Blair Hanson to arrange for Heitz’s visit. During these negotiations he explained to Hanson that he was “attempting to secure a post” for McClintock. He believed she would accept a teaching position, “but her strength lies in research and the teaching of graduate students.” Stadler praised the graduate cytogenetics class that she had recently offered at Missouri. He also emphasized that he did not want her decision to leave Missouri to be held against her.

By the end of September 1941, during a discussion with Hanson of the Rockefeller Foundation, Demerec mentioned that he expected to be appointed the next Director of the Department of Genetics, CIW/CSH, and “was working toward the appointment of McClintock” and drosophila geneticist H. J. Muller. The following month, McClintock continued her work at Schermerhorn Hall, Columbia University, hosted by her friends and colleagues Marcus and Virginia Rhoades (Provine and Sisco 1980). Meanwhile, Rhoades, continuing to assist McClintock in her job search, and, possibly unaware of her reservations about a USDA appointment, made inquires to M. A. McCall, his former supervisor at the USDA, regarding the prospect of an opening for McClintock. McCall replied that there was no opening at the present time, but if a possibility opened up it “will be brought to her attention.” McCall, who, as Assistant Chief of the Bureau of Plant Industry, was in regular contact with Stadler and his genetics group, may have been mindful of McClintock’s rejection of a USDA job offer when he recounted Stadler’s assertion that her University “position is open to her if she does want to go back.” McCall also appended his belief that “they [the Missouri genetics group] would be very regretful if she should find another opening.”

Blakeslee officially retired as Director of the Department of Genetics, CIW/CSH, at the end of November 1941. On December 1, 1941, Milislav Demerec was appointed Acting Director of the Department. True to his word, one of his first initiatives was to invite McClintock to “join [their] group as Guest Investigator during the month of December, and he explained to McClintock that he had “recommended that a provision be made in the budget for 1942 to extend this arrangement for the duration of your leave of absence from the University of Missouri … until September 1, 1942.” Only days before the U.S. was drawn into World War II, McClintock officially accepted Demerec’s offer and thanked him for the “generous provisions … offered … for continuation of my investigations.” While a Guest Investigator at CIW/CSH, McClintock also gave seminars at neighboring institutions, Fordham, Columbia, and Yale Universities, and the New York Botanical Gardens, and prepared three reports on her research (McClintock 1941c, 1942a, b). Perhaps because she was unencumbered with teaching or administrative duties she felt energized for these efforts. Or conceivably she may have believed that these undertakings would aid her in finding a position more suited to her qualifications.

Demerec, knowing of McClintock’s dissatisfaction with the University of Missouri, took the opportunity to persuade her to become a permanent member of his Department. He was well acquainted with her accomplishments in the field of genetics, and in March 1942, he drafted a recommendation to Bush:

… I am confident that if an opinion were asked of Dr. McClintock’s colleagues they would rate her as a first-class scientist and would place her among the first ten leading cytogeneticists of the world.… she is primarily responsible for establishing maize genetics in the eminent position it now occupies … she functions to greatest advantage in an institution where there are no teaching obligations … It can be said without hesitation that Dr. McClintock would be a great asset to this Department, and that she would replace Blakeslee’s work better than any other single person.… She would be willing to leave the University of Missouri, I feel, and the staff members of this Department concur with me, that there is a good opportunity for the Institution to acquire a first-class scientist, thus strengthening the work of one of its major departments. This we unanimously recommend.

The staff members who recommended that McClintock fill Blakeslee’s vacancy were established researchers at CIW/CSH’s Department of Genetics. Earlier that summer, Curt Stern (see Figure 3), the internationally recognized geneticist, had sent Rhoades a copy of a letter to share confidentially with “Barbara and some other good friends.” Stern’s original letter, sent to the Carnegie Institution of Washington, listed “in order of excellency (SIC) … ten men whom [he regarded] to be among the best botanical geneticists in this country” — McClintock’s name appeared second only to Stadler’s. Furthermore, in early 1942, Curtis had visited McClintock at Columbia University and encouraged her not to consider Missouri “a thing of the past.” McClintock was indeed respected and in demand.

Demerec immediately supplemented his Memorandum with a description of McClintock’s current research project, “… a really ingenious technique for determining the time of the fusion of broken chromosomes.” Demerec immediately informed Stadler of McClintock’s reservations, “Barbara wants me to wait until she hears from you before writing my letter.” Demerec added that it would be unwise to delay the matter very long, and he knew that McClintock wanted to “notify the University by April first with regard to returning” in the fall.

Upon receiving Demerec’s communication, Stadler immediately dashed off a handwritten response:

I am glad to learn that you were able to secure approval of the permanent appointment at CSH. I should think it would be an ideal position for Barb and a most desirable arrangement for the laboratory. However, from her letter to me I got the impression that she had not finally decided against returning to Missouri, and I have therefore discussed with Dean Curtis and President Midddlebush the question of her reappointment and the remedying of conditions here which she found objectionable.…there is nothing I would like better than to have Barb come back to Missouri if she is willing to come back, though I hope she will stay at Cold Spring Harbor if she is convinced that would be better for her work. I spoke to her by phone this morning and she will probably discuss with you the whole question of her permanent position. It is good to know that she will be welcome at either place, and I hope she chooses the one that will be best for her.

McClintock’s associates at Columbia University were kept apprised of these negotiations, and her colleagues Franz and Sally Schrader recorded Rhoades’ account in their diary. In summary: McClintock had written to Stadler at Missouri, who thereafter offered her an Associate Professorship and an increase of $1,000 above her current salary of $3,000, at which she was “much pleased.” After talking with Stadler, she immediately consulted Rhoades about which offer to accept, but Rhoades, wisely, only reminded her how unhappy she had been at Missouri. Within the day she had decided to accept Demerec’s offer.

On April 1, 1942, Demerec formally recommended extending McClintock’s guest investigator appointment through December 31, 1942, and requested she be appointed a regular staff member in their department beginning January 1, 1943. Demerec had an expert sense of how to foster another “prompt decision” and he added that McClintock had received word from Missouri not to make a decision until she heard from them:

Today a letter came from Dean Curtis offering an advancement to a research associate professorship at a salary of $3,990. This position has tenure. Research facilities at the University of Missouri would match facilities available here. Dr. McClintock has told me that she would prefer to work in this Department and would accept the appointment if received.

Two days later (April 3), McClintock received a letter from Bush continuing her appointment as guest investigator and recommending she be included in the 1943 budget as a regular staff member at a salary of $4,000 per annum. Upon hearing of McClintock’s pending appointment one of the staff investigators remarked, “We should mark today’s date with red letters in the Department Calendar!” Perhaps Demerec’s comment regarding research facilities was exaggerated but his statement about her preference to remain at CIW/CSH is confirmed by comments McClintock wrote to Edgar Anderson, on April 12, 1942, while replying to his questions regarding corn cytogenetics. Here again the “female element” reappears as a strong contributing factor in her desire to leave Missouri:

When Demerec became acting-Director he invited me for the rest of my leave of absence to be a Guest Investigator (with salary, thank goodness). In the meantime he has offered me a permanent position here which I have accepted. The University of Missouri came across in good fashion to meet the offer here but I have decided to remain here rather than return to Missouri. Missouri is very nice, and I thought my job there was exceptionally good. It was a hardship to turn down the excellent equipment and conditions for the meager conditions here. However, all-in-all, I believe remaining here is the wisest thing to do — being a woman!

McClintock waited until the end of May to officially resign her faculty appointment at Missouri. She did not complete the optional “Reasons” for resigning. Her Department Chair, C. M. Tucker, and Dean W. C. Curtis, were required to approve her resignation, “date effective August 31, 1942,” before forwarding it to the President. Their signatures were appended on June 1, 1942, and Curtis added the requisite “Comment”:

Dr. McClintock is resigning to accept a position on the staff of the Genetics Division [sic] of the Carnegie Institution at Cold Springs [sic] Harbor, New York. We regret exceedingly that she is leaving the University since her distinguished reputation as an investigator has brought so much added reputation to our program in Genetics. It is hoped that a satisfactory replacement can be made eventually. For the present I understand that Dr. Stadler is proposing a program of visiting appointees, each one on a purely temporary basis. WCC

The University accepted her resignation on June 8, 1942 (effective August, 31st). Five days later, Stadler wrote to Dean Curtis that McClintock’s resignation was a blow to the genetics research program, and he was still concerned that they would not be able to replace her “with a person of comparable attainments at the salary which she received [$3,000]. He added that they might find someone for a one-year appointment at $3,600, which is “considerably less than [McClintock’s] salary would have been if she had accepted the appointment recently offered her” [$3,990 or $4,000].

On July 1, 1942, McClintock succeeded MacDowell as chairman of the Department of Genetics Journal Club, “the informal gatherings of the scientific group and friends.” She arranged joint meetings with the Bio-Lab and with the Columbia University Genetics group. Although gasoline shortages limited travel and hence interactions with the Columbia group, she succeeded in persuading many of her friends and colleagues to present seminars on their work. As recorded in a colleague’s diary, in November she gave a “superb seminar” at Columbia University on her methods for “producing and marking genetically chromosomes with one unhealed broken end.… She carried you with her so completely that you are worn out and weary as well as excited when it’s over.”

At the end of December, Bush confirmed McClintock’s regular appointment for 1943, at the Department of Genetics, CIW/CSH. He added, “Notification of such annual appointment will be sent to you regularly as long as your name appears in the budget.” The department’s budget for that year specifically listed McClintock’s salary at $4,000 and designated an additional $1,300 for her research assistant.

Paradoxically, her appointment at CIW/CSH was even more precarious than she feared would be the case at Missouri. McClintock had told Stadler that she did not wish to remain in an insecure position, and Missouri’s offer of tenure rectified that situation. The appointment she finally accepted at CIW/CSH, however, was contingent on her name appearing in the annual budget. She accepted responsibilities at CIW/CSH that she had considered distracting at the University of Missouri, such as taking time to arrange research seminars, and responding to queries from colleagues. McClintock was empowered to shape her future, and she wisely considered both opportunities. She rejected an anticipated offer of tenure for a full-time research investigator appointment with no interference and complete freedom. She exchanged tenure and security at Missouri for an uncertain future at Cold Spring Harbor with freedom to pursue research without teaching responsibilities, committee work, graduate student advising, or deadlines for publications. She felt uncomfortable with this compromise, but it seemed to be the best decision at the time. It was a turning point in her career.

Gender was a strong contributor in her desire to leave Missouri, but it was not the only factor. Other considerations that played a part in her decision to leave academe were a restrictive university atmosphere, teaching distractions, an uncertain future in research (caused by lack of trust in the head of her program), and the value she placed on her freedom (Kass 2003).

McClintock was not denied tenure at the University of Missouri. On the contrary, she declined their offer of an Associate Professorship with tenure and a salary of approximately $4,000, in exchange for an uncertain appointment at CIW/CSH for a similar amount of money but with more independence. Almost 40 years after she left Missouri, she still expressed strong feelings of rejection: “I knew I was going to be fired sooner or later, so I fired myself” (Provine and Sisco 1980).

The investigations McClintock began as a postdoctoral research fellow at Missouri in 1931, and which she continued at Cornell and at Missouri between 1934 and 1941, had a great bearing on the significant research she would carry out at CIW/CSH; and for which she would ultimately be awarded the Nobel Prize in 1983. Years later she returned to the University of Missouri and explained to her audience at the 10th Stadler Genetics Symposium how her early work at Missouri “exposed innate mechanisms that initiate various grades of genome reorganization” (McClintock 1978). She added, “The full extent of their effects was not appreciated until the summer of 1944 and thereafter.”

McClintock’s desire for autonomy is summed up concisely in her reply to an invitation requesting that she return to Missouri to head the genetics project following Stadler’s death in 1954:

My present situation with the Carnegie is unique … I feel it would be difficult to acquire anywhere else the degrees of freedom that this position offers. The new President will continue the policy of no interference and complete freedom. I just go my own pace here with no obligations other than that which my conscience dictates. This seems to fit my personality rather well.

McClintock tried to dissuade Keller from writing her biography, because she believed she was “too much of a maverick for her story to be of interest to others” (Keller 1993: xxii). McClintock told other interviewers that she was reluctant to grant interviews because she might not remember events accurately (Provine and Sisco 1980; see also Bronte 1993). As McClintock had feared, her life became a legend. The stories she told to Keller and to others — though not as transparent as she recalled — were embellished and fictionalized — i.e., the legend of the University of Missouri denying McClintock tenure is but one example of such an exaggeration.

The story (Keller 1983, 1993) often repeated (e.g., Kittridge 1991; Buckner 1997) is that Stadler created a faculty position especially for McClintock at Missouri in 1936, because she needed a job. She eventually left that position because she saw no chance for promotion. When McClintock learned that she would probably be fired if Stadler left Missouri, she requested a leave of absence, intending never to return. Within the year, she reluctantly accepted a position at the Department of Genetics, Carnegie Institution of Washington, at Cold Spring Harbor, New York, although she was ambivalent about losing her freedom if she committed herself to any position. It is an earnest but abridged recollection and in the context of women’s battle for legitimacy (Hechinger 1985), it was misrepresented after McClintock received the Nobel Prize (Anonymous 1985, Nash 1999; on recollections see Kass 2003).

Exaggerated accounts of this reminiscence have resulted in a legend that McClintock left Missouri because she was denied tenure (Geyer 1983; Hitt 1983; Anonymous 1985, Bennett et al. 1993, Rossiter 1995) or was dismissed (Nash 1999) or quit science (McGrayne 1993) and that she eventually accepted a job at the Department of Genetics at Cold Spring Harbor because she had no place else to go (Kittridge 1991). McClintock was not denied tenure at Missouri, she was not dismissed, and she did not quit science.

The abbreviated and inflated accounts of McClintock’s experiences at the University of Missouri (i.e., Kittridge 1991; Rossiter 1995; Buckner 1997; Nash 1999) have relied almost exclusively on the interviews that Keller (1993) conducted with McClintock and her colleagues and on interviews she gave elsewhere (Bronte 1993; McGrayne 1993). This remains the case even in a recent biography that interprets the tenure legend in light of current academic guidelines and suggests that McClintock was not eligible for tenure (Comfort 2001: 64). The reasons McClintock left Missouri are more complex than is known from the popular tales, as my findings make clear.

McClintock may not be a typical example for women because her colleagues and mentors had recognized her earlier scientific contributions and they had supported her with recommendations for fellowships and academic appointments. In the Dynamic Genome, a gift to McClintock on her ninetieth birthday, Nina Fedoroff wrote, “The influence of her early work is greater then that of any of her peers …. Had she done no more, McClintock would have become a major figure in the history of genetics“ (Fedoroff and Botstein 1992). McClintock was not the somewhat pitiful figure she is often portrayed but in retrospect, she did not receive the same opportunities or recognition as men who had made comparable (or less than comparable) contributions. She was wise enough to recognize that her male colleagues had been recommended for preferred career opportunities that only a man could attain — i.e., appointments at exclusively male colleges and universities, etc. The documents from the time show that she was quite cognizant of academic politics and was her own agent in this arena. McClintock’s network of influential friends and scientific colleagues provided the opportunities that would permit her to reject a tenured academic job and accept a research appointment at Cold Spring Harbor. It would afford her the freedom to work independently and would be a turning point in her career.

This investigation raises the question: Why do histories based on oral interviews differ from the contemporaneous primary documents? Research on memory has shown that stories people tell about their past are shaped by the beliefs they hold in the present and are often reexamined in terms of current experiences. Psychologists who study the nature of autobiographical memory conclude that current beliefs can shape and sometimes distort recollections of past events. This quest for precision can lead biographers to criticize the factual inconsistencies, exaggerations, falsehoods, or self-deceit often found in autobiographies. Bias clouds memories of past impressions and feelings, which are filtered and made consistent with current impressions and feelings (Schacter and Scarry 2000, Schacter, 2001: 14, 163). McClintock’s memories (Provine & Sisco 1980) led me to seek documents that clarify and supplement the reminiscences and recollections in many stories told by and about Barbara McClintock. Archived documents and records are undoubtedly more reliable sources than interpretations founded on oral histories, memoirs, or autobiographical recollections (Kass 2003). Yet, my quest for precision is not to criticize factual inconsistencies. My aim in writing an intellectual biography of Barbara McClintock is to use written documents that record the intellectual history of McClintock’s life and work and to place in historical perspective the many autobiographical reminiscences, recollections, and stories told by and about McClintock. McClintock’s memories were genuine but condensed (Provine and Sisco 1980, Keller 1983). Papers and correspondence written at the time portray a more complete and intriguing picture of the environment at Missouri when McClintock was employed there between 1936 and 1942. Documentation regarding McClintock’s graduate and post-graduate career has also provided a different portrait of her earlier career (Kass 2003; Kass and Bonneuil, 2004). Additional records will continue to surface and provide an even more complete and complex picture of what transpired early on in McClintock’s profession.

Clearly a variety of evidence must be integrated when writing a complete biography of a contemporary individual. Methodologically there is no way of discovering the “objective” truth about what actually happened in a person’s life. We can come closer to precision by using personal recollections and oral histories to guide us to records and documents that clarify those memories. The outcome is, of course, subjective, but can provide a clearer view of what transpired than memories and recollections compressed and beclouded by years of life.


Research for this project was supported by NSF grants #SBR 9511866, #SBR 9710488; Mellon Resident Research Fellowship, American Philosophical Society Library, Philadelphia PA; Helm Fellowship, Lilly Library, Bloomington IN; I thank archivists and librarians at: American Philosophical Society Library, Philadelphia PA; AAUP Archives, Gelman Library, George Washington University, Washington, DC; California Institute of Technology Archives, Pasadena, CA; Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Archives, Cold Spring Harbor, NY; Carnegie Institution of Washington Archives, Washington, DC; Columbia University Archives, Manhattan, NY; Kroch Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Archives, Ithaca, NY; Manuscript and Map Collections, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, CA; Mann Library, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY; Missouri Botanical Garden Archives, St. Louis, MO; Lilly Library, Bloomington IN; Olin Library, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY; Plant Breeding Department Archives, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY; Rockefeller Foundation Archives, Rockefeller Archive Center, Sleepy Hollow, NY; The State Historical Society of Missouri, Columbia, MO; University of Minnesota Archives, Minneapolis, MN; University of Missouri Archives, Columbia, MO; Western Historical Manuscript Collection, Columbia, MO; I thank Evelyn Fox Keller for alerting me to important collections at the Rockefeller Foundation; Patricia Brown for use of copies of the Schrader’s diaries; faculty, staff, and students, L. H. Bailey Hortorium, Department of Plant Biology, who provided logistical support during this study; friends and colleagues who provided lodgings during my visits to archives: Neil and Rochelle Campbell (Pasadena), Florina Tseng (Berkeley), Sandra and Nick Tsantillis (Cold Spring Harbor & Sleepy Hollow), Edward Coe (Columbia, MO), Kim Kleinman and Ellen Dorfman (St. Louis & Columbia, MO), Marie Knowlton (Minneapolis), Nancy Elliott (Siena College), Maxine and Dan Singer (Washington, DC), Lorraine and Gene Traynor (Sleepy Hollow); I am grateful to Margaret Rossiter for leads to documents and constant encouragement; members of the Missouri genetics group, especially Edward Coe and M. Gerald Neuffer for providing insights, access to department library and personal collections, and office space; Chris Bonneuil, N. Comfort, Kim Kleinman, Rosalind Morris for leads and document sharing, in the spirit of maize cooperation; Robert E. Hunt for his patience, confidence, financial and moral support. Very special thanks to R. P. Murphy, Josetta H. Srb, and Harriet Creighton for many hours of discussion and insights. Thanks to readers of early drafts for valuable editorial comments, insights, and discussions: H. Creighton, E. Coe, M. Dietrich, R. Dirig, R. Dyson-Hudson, E. Engst, C. Husa, N. Fedoroff, K. Gale, M. A. Gondalfo, R. Hunt, M. Luckow, R. P. Murphy, W. B. Provine, B. Rathcke, V. B. Smokovitis, J. Srb, R. H. Whalen, and anonymous reviewers.

This paper is dedicated to Professor William B. Provine, mentor, friend, and initiator of this project.



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Table 1. Investigators in Stadler’s genetics group at the University of Missouri, 1936, appointed for “full time or approximately full time research”
(Stadler to Middlebush, April 13, 1936, LJS; see also Figure 1)

Barbara McClintockAssistant Professor of Botany, College of Arts and Sciences
Joseph O’MaraAssistant Geneticist, U.S.D.A.
Ernest SearsAssistant Geneticist, U.S.D.A.
Luther SmithAssistant Geneticist, U.S.D.A.
George F. SpragueAssociate Professor of Field Crops, College of Agriculture, and Associate Agronomist, U.S.D.A.
Lewis J. StadlerAssociate Professor of Field Crops, College of Agriculture, and Senior Geneticist, U.S.D.A.
Frank M. UberAssistant Professor of Physics, College of Arts and Sciences


Table 2. McClintock’s Teaching Responsibilities at University of Missouri, 1936–1943

Courses Barbara McClintock was scheduled to teach, as listed in the University of Missouri, College of Arts and Science, Announcements for 1936–1943 (f, fall term; w, winter term). Courses were offered in the Botany Department (B) and cross-listed in the Departments of Zoology (Z) and Field Crops (F). McClintock participated in courses offered by Botany Department faculty and co-taught classes with M. J. Guthrie (Z) and L. J. Stadler (F); see Fig. 1. She independently developed and offered Cytogenetics in the winter term, 1940–1941. McClintock was on leave of absence in 1941–1942 and was scheduled to teach in 1942–1943 [SHSM].

SPECIAL PROBLEMSf, wAll faculty in B including McClintock
SEMINARf, wAll faculty in B including McClintock
SPECIAL TOPICSf, wAll faculty in B including McClintock
ADVANCED GENETICSwGuthrie, Stadler, McClintock (cross-listed in B, F, Z; alt. yrs with Advanced Cytology) [McClintock on leave, 1941–42]
ADVANCED CYTOLOGYwGuthrie, McClintock, Stadler (cross-listed in B, F, Z; alt. yrs with Adv. Genetics) [replaced by Cytogenetics in 1940–41]
RESEARCHf, wAll faculty in B including McClintock
THE HISTORY OF BOTANYwAll faculty in B including McClintock (alt. yrs., first offered 1938–1939)
CYTOGENETICSwMcClintock (not cross-listed in F or Z, generally alt. yrs, prerequisite Botany 125 or equivalent, first offered 1940–41; not offered 1941–42 [McClintock on leave], scheduled for 1942–43)


Table 3. Students under McClintock’s guidance at the University of Missouri between 1936 and 1942
(*directed research, +major advisor, ^member of Ph.D. committee, **consultant; see also Figure 1; BD; AMS 1944)

*+^Edward Allen Weaver, Ph.D. 1942.
*+^Spencer Brown, in residence for Ph.D. 1938–1941, completed 1942, U. California, Berkeley.
*^Helen Crouse, Ph.D. 1942; advisor, M. J. Guthrie, Department of Zoology
Mary Amelia Bartley, Ph.D. candidate 1938; advisor, W. J. Robbins, Department of Botany.
^James Wagner Cameron, Ph.D. candidate 1938, completed 1947, Harvard.
^Herschel Roman, Ph.D. 1942; major advisor, L. J. Stadler, Department of Field Crops
**Jesse Singleton, M. A. 1941; advisor W. B. Drew, Department of Botany

± Mary A. Bartley published research papers with W. J. Robbins; however, the University of Missouri cannot confirm her degree.


Table 4. Notable visiting researchers who consulted with Barbara McClintock, between 1936 and 1941, at the University of Missouri, and their research organisms (BD; AMS 1944)

W. Ralph Singleton, Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, Bureau of Plant Industry, U.S.D.A., 1937–1938, genetics and cytology of Zea mays [Maize] (see Figure 1).
Will Martin Myers, Northeast Regional Pasture Research Laboratory, State College, Pennsylvania, U.S.D.A., 1938, cytology and genetics of forage grasses.
Carl C. Lindegren and Gertrude Lindegren, U. Southern California, 1940, genetics and cytology of Neurospora [bread mold].
J. Gordon Carlson, Rockefeller Fellow, University of Alabama, 1940–1941, Orthopteran [Grasshopper] cytology.
Carl P. Swanson, Sheldon Traveling Fellow, Harvard University, 1941, plant cytology, Tradescantia [Spiderwort].

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