I have one memory of Dr. Emily L. Wick. She was the Spring Commencement speaker at Youngstown State University in June 1976. Both my wife and I were among the graduates who heard her speak. All either of us can remember was a story she told about aardvarks! I suspect our minds were on other things than commencement words of wisdom–mostly getting our diplomas and getting out of those sticky robes.
That story hardly does justice to the life of this amazing woman. After completing undergraduate and masters degrees at Mount Holyoke College, she enrolled in 1946 as a chemistry Ph.D. candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where her father had attended. She was an avid sailor although there was no sailing team at the time for women. She was one of only 19 women to graduate from MIT in 1951. After graduation, she worked for A.D. Little, doing the chemical research that resulted in Miracle Whip and many Campbell soups.
In 1959 she was hired as an assistant professor at MIT in the Department of Nutrition and Food Science. In 1963, she became the first woman to achieve tenure at MIT. During this time, she developed food systems for the newly established astronaut program of NASA. She became an associate dean of student affairs in 1965, co-founding the Women’s Forum to advocate for the equal treatment of women on faculty, in student admissions, and in every aspect of life on campus. She also became a staunch supporter of the women’s sailing team, which became a varsity sport in 1969. In honor of her work, alumni organized the Emily Wick Regatta. The Intercollegiate Women’s Sailing Championship trophy is named the Emily L. Wick trophy.
On November 19, 1972. The Youngstown Vindicator ran a story about Dr. Wick receiving an honorary degree from nearby Mount Holyoke College. David B. Truman, president of the college said of her:
“You have also won the respect of colleagues and the gratitude of students for your skilled championship of women at MIT, for your unfailing and persuasive sense of humor, and above all for your fundamental integrity — qualities rare in any era but especially valued for their scarcity in these times.”
One wonders if they were preparing the way for her appointment as dean of the faculty in 1973, marking her return to Mount Holyoke twenty-seven years after her graduation. Later, she was an assistant to the president for long range planning before her retirement in 1986.
Why focus on this east coast scientist and academic? You guessed it! She was a native of Youngstown. Her 1947-1948 I.D. card for the MIT Sailing Pavilion lists her home address on South Belle Vista Avenue in Youngstown, Ohio. Her father was James L. Wick, Jr., after whom the James L. Wick Recreation Area is named. She was born December 9, 1921.
Her love of sailing began young, when her family summered in Rockport, Massachusetts, on the coast. When she retired, she returned to Rockport and in 1988 was named the first woman Commodore of the Sandy Bay Yacht Club. In 2012, the club named its Race Committee boat the Emily Wick. She worked to keep memberships affordable for everyone, including teenagers. She was an avid hiker and bird watcher.
Active until her last years, she passed away at age 91 on March 21, 2013. She was a pathbreaker for women in science, gave us Miracle Whip, fed our astronauts, and pursued a love of sailing all her life. And it all began on the West Side of Youngstown.
To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!