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Louise Sherwood McDowell papers

 Collection — Box: 1-9
Identifier: 3P-McDowell

Scope and Content

This collection documents the mostly professional activities of Dr. Louise Sherwood McDowell. It includes photographs, correspondence, published materials, and notes related to her government defense work and defense courses taught at Wellesley College, alumnae association planning, and Dr. McDowell’s many travels. Of note is materials related to the now declassified Radio Research Laboratory at Harvard University, original drawings from “Very High-Frequency Techniques,” signed correspondence with many notable contemporary scientists, including Alexander Graham Bell. Of note are materials documenting her June-August 1914 trip to Holland and Germany, which describes the breaking out of World War I while she was staying in a small German town, and her successful attempt to get back to America.


  • 1894 - 1955

Conditions Governing Access



Copyright in some papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns. Researchers must obtain the written permission of the holder(s) of copyright publishing quotations from any material in the collection.

Preferred Citation

Papers of Louise Sherwood McDowell, 3P McDowell, Wellesley College Archives, Wellesley College Library and Technology Services.

Biographical / Historical

Dr. Louise Sherwood McDowell was born on September 29, 1876 in Wayne, NY. Upon graduation from Wellesley College in 1898, Dr. McDowell taught English and Science at Northfield Seminary in East Northfield, MA. (1898-1901) and Warren High School in Ohio (1901-1906). Dr. McDowell earned an M.A. (1907) and Ph.D (1909) in Physics from Cornell University. Her thesis is considered one of the earliest studies of electrical impulses of semiconductors. Dr. McDowell accepted a position as Instructor of Physics at Wellesley College in 1906. Upon retirement from Wellesley in 1945, she had risen to full professor status and was Chair of the Physics Department. Dr. McDowell provided significant scientific contributions to defense work for the United States during both World War I and World War II. During World War I, from July 1918-February 1919, she was the first female Ph.D. to be hired at the rank of Scientist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the the Department of Defense, where she investigated and helped to refine Army Signal Corps radio equipment. In 1942 McDowell joined several other faculty members at Wellesley College to teach civil defense courses, described as management defense training for radio technicians. In 1945, Dr. McDowell chose to defer her retirement by one year when she was recruited as a research associate at the top secret Radio Research Laboratory at Harvard University. While there, McDowell was credited as being the associate editor for "Very High-Frequency Techniques," a publication which, once declassified, brought her accolades from a cohort of prominent physicists and scientists. Throughout her life McDowell was an avid outdoorswoman and traveler. She traveled extensively throughout Europe most summers, and hiked the mountains of New England well into retirement. She resided in Wellesley, MA throughout her tenure at Wellesley College and remained an active member of the community in retirement. She was a member of Sigma Delta Epsilon (Graduate Women's Scientific Fraternity), Phi Beta Kappa (the National Academic Honors Society), Sigma Xi (the scientific honor society), and was a class officer for the Wellesley class of 1898. She was the first female on the Executive Committee for and first female Vice President of the American Association of Physics Teachers. She also served as Chairwoman of the New England section of the American Physical Society, was a member of the International Relations Committee of the Wellesley League of Voters, and was the Regional Director of the Wellesley College Development Fund for Eastern Massachusetts (1950). In her retirement McDowell was a traveling scientific lecturer who argued against the use of atomic energy. Louise McDowell died on September 29, 1976 at her home in Wellesley, Massachusetts.


1.25 Linear Feet (2 full Hollinger boxes, 2 half Hollinger boxes)

Language of Materials



This collection documents the professional and personal activities of Dr. Louise Sherwood McDowell. It includes photographs, correspondence, published materials, and notes related to her teaching at Wellesley College, government defense work (including defense courses taught at Wellesley College), alumnae association planning, and Dr. McDowell’s many travels.

Acquisition Information

Source unknown.

Alternative Forms of Material

Some images from this collection may have been digitized. Digitized materials are available through the Wellesley College Digital Scholarship and Archive. Please consult archives staff for confirmation of digitized materials.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Sara B. Ludovissy, Winter 2018.
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Repository Details

Part of the Wellesley College Archives Repository