In Memoriam: Marjorie Caroline Malley

5 February 1941 – 15 January 2016
Marjorie Caroline Malley2016 opened sadly with the loss of Marjorie Malley, a noteworthy scholar and friend to many of us in the History of Science Society. Marjorie grew up in Terryville, Connecticut, near Hartford. After studying physics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and graduating from MIT in 1962, she earned a Master of Arts in Teaching degree from Harvard. Marjorie then completed her doctoral degree at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1976, writing a dissertation titled, “From Hyperphosphorescence to Nuclear Decay: A History of the Early Years of Radioactivity, 1869–1914.”

Marjorie soon published a 1979 Isis article (v. 70, no. 2) on “The Discovery of Atomic Transmutation: Scientific Styles and Philosophies in France and Britain.” In 1994, she traced ideas about phosphorescence and fluorescence in “Thermodynamics and Cold Light,” Annals of Science (v. 51, no. 3). Her other publications included articles in The American Journal of Physics (1971), the Archive for History of Exact Sciences (1991), and The Chronicles of Oklahoma (2002), as well as contributions to the Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science and to Women in Chemistry and Physics: A Biobibliographic Sourcebook. Several of her early papers were also reprinted by the American Association of Physics Teachers.

In 2011, Oxford University Press published Marjorie’s book, Radioactivity: A History of a Mysterious Science. Marjorie wanted her work to offer a “broad and accurate” but non-technical “overview of the history of radioactivity.” Her introduction explained. “Having spent years teaching and developing curricula, I am especially interested in making the history of science accessible for students and for teachers.” Marjorie continued, “Radioactivity has the dual attractions of a fascinating history and dramatic consequences for humanity… the allure, challenge, and excitement of a totally unanticipated and mysterious phenomenon and… the twists and turns, surprises and dead ends which researchers experienced as they pursued their goal of understanding radioactivity.”

Marjorie was correct in believing that the history of radioactivity was a topic that could capture widespread interest. In August, 2011, Amazon.com featured Radioactivity as one of its top choices for the “Best Books of the Month” list. Praising Radioactivity in his blog, British author Brian Clegg commented, “What I found absolutely fascinating—and it’s something I’ve hardly ever come across in popular science writing—is the way that Malley makes us time travelers, [giving] the feel for exactly what people were thinking and saying as radioactivity progressed…. As a science writer myself I’m in awe of the work that must have gone into getting that changing perspective as we move through the timeline. It’s magnificent.”

Within the History of Science Society, Marjorie was an early leader of the HSS Committee on Education from the mid-1990s onward. As committee chair, she helped organize a number of exciting opportunities for HSS members to share ideas for enlivening and sharpening instruction at the K-12, undergraduate, and graduate levels. Several programs, for example, focused on innovative ways to teach history of science by going “Beyond Lecture.” Describing this education-centered discussion at the 1997 HSS meeting in San Diego, Marjorie wrote, “A spirit of fun pervaded the workshop, reflecting the obvious delight creative teaching methods and materials gave to presenters and audience alike.”

Marjorie’s commitment to improving curriculum development in history and science extended to the national level. During the early 1990s, proposed new standards in history education generated heated political and public controversy. Working with the Council for Basic Education in 1995, a Washington-based liberal-arts advocacy group, Marjorie served on an independent review panel in world history that offered scholarly perspective on the issues. She also wrote material about the history of science for the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, a non-profit organization for strengthening science literacy and teaching.

Many of us came to know Marjorie particularly well through the more intimate venue of the Midwest Junto for the History of Science, where she was a devoted long-time attendee. She played a valuable role in upholding Junto traditions, part of the old guard always ready to welcome graduate students and other new members. It was wonderful to walk into the Friday afternoon gathering of each new Junto and see Marjorie there, usually accompanied by her equally-delightful husband Jim Hornell. Marjorie hosted and helped organize the 1999 meeting of the Midwest Junto in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, opening with a casual party at her home. Reporting later on the conference, Marjorie wrote in the HSS Newsletter, “The weekend was graced by perfect spring weather, enhancing the relaxed and friendly atmosphere which is so characteristic of Junto meetings.” In truth, it was her hospitality and efficient organizing that graced the Bartlesville Junto and made it such a special weekend. Future meetings of the Midwest Junto will never be the same without Marjorie’s cheerful presence and her enthusiasm for the history of science.

– Amy Bix, Iowa State University