The Women in Chemistry
LS: And what was your research?
MM: My research was in complexes. Looking for stability constants in complex ions. At the time, there were no computers. So everything was done with a slide-rule, a round slide-rule that I still have. So I looked for stability constants and I was working at 30 degrees. My bath was at 30 degrees. It was very hard because the summers in Penn State are hot. The building was not air conditioned and the winters are hard. So it was very hard to keep the 30 degrees. I started but I had a ball at Penn State. I mean, I really enjoyed Penn State. And I'm still very close to Penn State. So, I finished. I was there in June, 1960, went home August of '61 and came back to, and finished writing my thesis in Puerto Rico sending back and forth, and came and defended, no, I defended in November or December of '61. That's what it was, because my graduation date is April '62 but I was gone already. I was just there two summers and one year and I finished. I finished my courses. I finished my language because they didn't accept that Spanish was my language so that English was a second language for me or vice versa so I had to take a language exam which I took German at the time. There was another girl from Puerto Rico and she was in bio-chemistry and bio-chemistry accepted that English was a second language for her. So I went back to Puerto Rico. Now, that I had my Master's then I became an assistant professor. Before I was an instructor. I got tenure. I continued working until 1965. Very involved in the American Chemical Society and the Puerto Rico Chemical Association. I was the president of the Women Chemists in Puerto Rico for a while. From what? From '63 to '64. Continued teaching and then met my husband. He was . . .
LS: In Puerto Rico at the University?
MM: In Puerto Rico at the University. He was a pre-med student, had gone to medical school and left because he didn't like it. Was one year out so he came back to the University of Puerto Rico to study to do the Master's in chemistry. And he was one of my TA's.
LS: That's unusual. It's usually the other way around, isn't it?
MM: Well, remember, I was young, so I was still very young at the time. I was single and the students used to call me “the old maid”, but you know, I mean, there I was 23 or 24 and I was “the old maid”. Then we got married and he met Dr. Greg Choppin from Florida State because Greg Choppin had gone to Puerto Rico to work with the high school chemistry teachers. It was at the time, you know, after Sputnik and all that. There was a lot of NSF money for developing high school textbooks and programs and things. So, he applied to Florida State and I applied to see if they had any positions there. Well, I did get a position at Florida State teaching general chemistry. I started with general chemistry labs and general chemistry recitation sessions. And we were there for three years when he finished his Master's. My first baby was born there. My daughter, Olga in 1966 she was born. And continued teaching. Then we went to Bridgeport, Connecticut because he got a job with General Electric. When I found out he was going to Bridgeport, I had sent to all the schools around Bridgeport looking for a position. But I never told anyone of them that I was five months pregnant with my second child. I got a phone call from the chairperson of the University of Bridgeport saying, I'm so-and-so and I'm looking at your vita and you sound like a girl that I knew in Puerto Rico that we went together toward to Buenos Aires, Argentina to a meeting in 1962. But your name is signed Zaida Martinez. Well, I had taken my husband's last name.
MM: So when he told me his name, sure enough, I said, Dr. Strong, I'm the same one. So he was an analytical chemist. He was going to be gone for one year in a sabbatical so he didn't even interview me, he told me, you've got the job. Well, when I got the letter that I had the job then I had to tell him that I was pregnant. So I worked there the summer, that summer of '68 and then my son was born in October. So, I was out for a semester but than I went back in January and started teaching for them again. And I taught there for one-year-and-one half. Again, very involved.
LS: Did you have concerns about being a working mother?
MM: Never did. Never. I always found somebody that I trusted to take care of them. And then I went and I told them, I'm working, don't bother me. If something is wrong call. If something is wrong then, it's different. In teaching, you don't have to be there from 8:00 to 5:00. So, that was kind of easy. I spent a lot of quality time with them even if it was not quantity. They knew that mama was a teacher. They never touched my papers. I graded papers at the kitchen table in the middle of doing dinner or doing laundry or whatever. The way I told them was, you know how you're not happy when your daycare teacher is not there and somebody else comes? That's the same way my students get if I'm not there. So to this day, my two kids say that they never suffered because I was working.
Curator-Archives of Women in Science and Engineering