Honoring science's unsung heroes
When Barbara McDonald was pursuing her master's degree in television production at Stanford University in the 1950s, a school staff member advised her to reconsider — despite her talents, the staff member said, the television industry wasn't hiring women at the time.
So McDonald changed course.
She carved out a successful career as a speech pathologist, but she also continued to star in plays as a hobby, entertaining local crowds with her knack for comedic roles.
Decades later, the Charbonneau resident is directing a live reader's theater show about the relatively unknown women, from the 1800s to the present day, who broke the mold — and gender stereotypes — with world-changing innovations and inventions.
"Women have been doing these things over the years and no one ever hears about it," she says. "So we're alerting the world."
The show, entitled "Breaking the Sound Barrier: Celebrating Unsung Heroes in Science," will tell the stories of relatively unknown female Nobel Prize winners, astronauts, inventors and other scientists.
Set for Feb. 11 at Lakewood Center for the Arts, the free show is one of more than 30 events taking place throughout the month of February as part of the 11th-annual Lake Oswego Reads program, which this year centers on Nathalia Holt's "Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars."
The book tells the true story of the women, called "human computers," who launched America into space, breaking the boundaries of both gender and science along the way.
In the 1940s and '50s, when the newly created Jet Propulsion Laboratory needed quick-thinking mathematicians to calculate velocities and plot trajectories, the company didn't turn to male college graduates. Instead, it recruited an elite group of young women who — using only handwritten mathematical prowess — transformed rocket design, helped create the first American satellites and made the exploration of the solar system possible.
"I thought they were great, brilliant women to be able to do that," McDonald says. "They did all of this with a pencil and paper."
McDonald is a member of Lake Oswego's American Association of University Women (AAUW) branch, part of a nationwide nonprofit organization that seeks to advance equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy and research. Part of that mission involves supporting science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs.
The reader's theater show was written by Gloria Holland of Salem and adapted by McDonald. The cast includes several local AAUW members, including Lake Oswegans Nancy Dunis, Jeanne Lemieux, Jeanne-Marie Pierrelouis, Susan Shea and Stephanie Wagner; and Mary Pat Silveira of West Linn. The music director is Esther Halvorson-Hill of Lake Oswego.
The show is made up of a series of vignettes that tell the stories of several dozen women, including Gertrude Bell Elion, who won the Nobel Prize for groundbreaking discoveries in medicine and treatments for herpes, cancer and urinary tract and respiratory infections; Col. Eileen Collins, the first female pilot and shuttle commander who served on the spaceship Atlantis; and other inspirational inventors and scientists.
The actors will wear everyday, modern clothing as they read from a script — which is traditional in reader's theater — and some will bring props to show off certain women's inventions.
Local AAUW President Pat Squire says the show offers insight into the women behind the inventions that many people use every day.
"I think this gives people a little more of an experience as opposed to just reading a book or seeing a movie," she says. "I think it's opened the eyes of the women who are in the play — it certainly has mine."
For more information, contact Squire at 503-675-9002 or Karen Rottink at 503-636-9755.
IF YOU GO
What: The American Association of University Women's Lake Oswego branch and Lake Oswego Reads presents "Breaking the Sound Barrier: Celebrating Unsung Heroes in Science," a reader's theater event.
When: Saturday, Feb. 11, 10:30 a.m.-noon
Where: Downstairs at Lakewood Center for the Arts, 368 S. State Street, Lake Oswego
And there's more: Look for a complete list of next week's Lake Oswego Reads events on Page B7 of this week's Review.