Madeleine Jacobs

Born: November 11, 1946 | Washington, DC, US
Madeleine Jacobs at podium

Madeleine Jacobs grew up in Washington, DC, the younger of two children. Her father was a musician, her mother a secretary. The television program Watch Mr. Wizard convinced her she wanted to be a scientist, in particular a chemist. She matriculated into George Washington University with a full scholarship. After college, Jacobs began a master's program at the University of Maryland, but quit after a year. She had always loved writing and wrote extremely well, so she applied for a job with Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN). After a short stint as a writer at National Institutes of Health, she spent five years as a science writer, and then became head of media relations and publications at the National Bureau of Standards. From that position, Jacobs' career took her to the Smithsonian Institution's Office of Public Affairs, beginning as science writer and ending as its Director. After fourteen years at the Smithsonian, Jacobs returned to C&EN  to become managing editor. After one and a half years, she became editor-in-chief, a title she held for eight and a half additional years. At C&EN , she reawakened her interest in women in chemistry. She initiated "The Scorecard" to document the progress of women on chemistry faculties. Finding this scorecard effective in making faculties sit up and take notice on the disparity between the number of male and female professors, she began a scorecard for industry. After ten years at C&EN, Jacobs became the first woman and first person without a PhD to become Chief Executive Officer of the American Chemical Society, the position she holds today.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0669
No. of pages: 56
Minutes: 189

Interview Sessions

Hilary Domush
28 May 2009
American Chemical Society, Washington, DC

Abstract of Interview

Madeleine Jacobs grew up in Washington, D.C., the younger of two children.  Her father was a musician, her mother a secretary.  The television program Watch Mr. Wizard convinced her she wanted to be a scientist, in particular a chemist.  Jacobs went to school in the wake of Sputnik, during which time there was much more support and better resources for education generally, and science education specifically. Jacobs feels that she had very good teachers and classes throughout junior and senior high school. Her parents were supportive of her ambition to pursue science, and she always earned top grades in all her subjects.  

Jacobs submitted a limited number of college applications, largely because the cost of applying to colleges put a strain on her middle-class family.  She matriculated into George Washington University with a full scholarship.  She found the professors involved and engaging and loved her experiences there; her summer work to earn money at a government agency involved studying lipid transport in cockroaches.  She married after college, planning to enter Stanford University’s PhD program in chemistry, but her husband had been drafted, and they had to spend two years in Washington, DC.  Jacobs began a master’s program at the University of Maryland, but she quit after a year.  She had always loved writing and wrote extremely well, so she applied for a job with Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN).  At C&EN, she became interested in gender equality of chemists, in particular the disparity between the salaries of women and men chemists. This interest in gender equality has lasted her entire life. 

Initially, Jacobs worked in Washington, DC, and continued working for C&EN when she moved to California with her husband.  After six months in California, she left to return to DC, where she worked for C&EN for two more years.  After a short stint as a writer at National Institutes of Health, she spent five years as a science writer, and then became head of media relations and publications at the National Bureau of Standards. From that position, Jacobs’ career took her to the Smithsonian Institution’s Office of Public Affairs, beginning as science writer and ending as its Director.  At this job, she became interested in attracting diverse audiences to the museums.  During her time at the Smithsonian, the slogan, “The Smithsonian is for everyone” was coined. When she left there, she was awarded the Secretary’s Gold Medal for her efforts in outreach, especially to underrepresented peoples.

After fourteen years at the Smithsonian, Jacobs returned to C&EN to become managing editor.  After one and a half years, she became editor-in-chief, a title she held for eight and a half additional years.  At C&EN, she reawakened her interest in women in chemistry.  She initiated “The Scorecard” to document the progress of women on chemistry faculties.  Finding this scorecard effective in making faculties sit up and take notice on the disparity between the number of male and female professors, she began a scorecard for industry.  

After ten years at C&EN, Jacobs became the first woman and first person without a PhD to become Chief Executive Officer of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the position she holds today.  Her responsibilities include running a staff of two thousand people, including the ACS scientific publishing operations, Chemical Abstracts Service and ACS Publications; serving on the ACS Board of Directors; fundraising; and outreach to universities, government, industry, and the nonprofit world.  She continues her interest in promoting gender equality and minority representation.  She sees science education and literacy as a path to improvement of everyone’s life.
 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1968 George Washington University BS Chemistry
2013 George Washington University DSc (Honoris causa)

Professional Experience

American Chemical Society

1969 to 1973
Assistant Editor, Chemical & Engineering News
1993 to 1995
Managing Editor, Chemical & Engineering News
1995 to 2003
Editor-in-Chief, Chemical & Engineering News
2004 to 2011
Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

1972 to 1974
Writer/Editor, Public Information Office

National Bureau of Standards

1974 to 1979
Writer/Editor
1978 to 1979
Chief, Media Liaison and General Publications

Smithsonian Institution

1979 to 1986
Assistant Director and Chief Science Writer, Office of Public Affairs
1986 to 1987
Acting Director, Office of Public Affairs
1987 to 1993
Director, Office of Public Affairs

Honors

Year(s) Award
1993

Smithsonian Institution Gold Medal for Exceptional Service

1999

Abbott Laboratories Distinguished Scientists Speaker, Abbott Park, Illinois

2001

Ruth Evelyn Sanders Distinguished Lectureship, Texas Christian University

2001

16th Annual William S. Johnson Symposium in Organic Chemistry Keynote Speaker, Stanford University

2002

New York Academy of Sciences Women's History Month Award

2002

75th Canadian Society for Chemistry Lecturer, Edmonton, Alberta

2002

UOP Invitational Lectureship, Des Plaines, Illinois

2003

Samuel R. Scholes Jr. Lecturer, Alfred University, Alfred, New York

2003

Jack A. Gerster Memorial Lecturer, University of Delaware, Newark

2003

ADVANCE Lecturer, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

2003

ACS Award for Encouraging Women into Careers in the Chemical Sciences

2004

George M. Braude Memorial Lecturer, ACS Maryland Section

2004

Award for Executive Excellence, sponsored by Commercial Development and Marketing Association and the Chemical Heritage Foundation

2004

American Crystallographic Association Public Service Award

2005

William E. Mahoney Annual Lecture in Chemistry, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

2006

Pittsburgh Chemical Day Keynote Speaker

2006

Distinguished Laboratory for Molecular Sciences Lectureship on Science and Education, California Institute for Technology

2007

Trustees Council of Penn Women Lecturer, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

2007

Sylvia M. Stoesser Lecture in Chemistry, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

2008

Moses Passer Lecturer, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

2009

Invited Panelist, Innovation Economy Conference, Washington, DC

2011

Edith Kreeger Wolf Visiting Professor, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Raised in Washington, DC. Father musician; mother secretary. Musical brother. "Watch Mr. Wizard." Always loved science, especially chemistry. Sputnik. Increase in government support for science education. Good science classes throughout junior high school and high school. National Science Foundation program at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. Always got good grades. Parents supportive.

George Washington University
6

Enough money to apply to four colleges only. Offered full-tuition scholarship to George Washington University. Older brother studying computer science at University of Maryland. Summer jobs: camp counselor; biology assistant; studying lipid transport in female cockroaches. Naval Research Laboratory. Did extremely well in all subjects. Loved writing.

Life after College
15

Engaged to physics student from high school class. Married after college. Accepted to Stanford University. Husband drafted; return to DC for two years. Began master's degree at University of Maryland, working in Bruce Jarvis's lab. Quit after only one year. Renewed interest in helping women. Project SEED.

Chemical & Engineering News and Other Work
22

Looking for one-year job, accepted editorial assistant position at Chemical & Engineering News. Continued working for C&EN when she returned to Stanford with her husband. After six months, left husband to return to DC. After three years left C&EN for National Institutes of Health; then Bureau of Standards. Head of media relations and publications.

Smithsonian Institution
29

Becomes science writer, then assistant director, in Office of Public Affairs. Discusses responsibilities. Museum of the American Indian. Heye Foundation. "The Smithsonian is for everyone." Secretary's Gold Medal for her accomplishments. Promoted to Acting Director, then Director of Smithsonian.

Back to C&EN
34

Returns as managing editor of C&EN. Revives interest in women in chemistry. Invents "The Scorecard" first for academia and then for industry. Discusses importance of life outside work; promotion of women scientists with such programs as National Science Foundation's Advance grant; her struggle with breast cancer; loss and regaining of self-confidence. Becomes editor-in-chief.

American Chemical Society
47

First woman and first person without PhD to become Chief Executive Officer. Discusses accomplishments and challenges of job; president's functions vis-á-vis CEO; testifying before the US Congress; fundraising; meetings; overseeing publications.

General Thoughts
51

Science trains certain style of thinking, effective in most walks of life. Wants to improve science education and literacy in order to improve living for all. Describes some of her favorite things from her travels. Extols her second marriage.

Index
54

About the Interviewer

Hilary Domush

Hilary Domush was a Program Associate in the Center for Oral History at CHF from 2007–2015. Previously, she earned a BS in chemistry from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine in 2003.  She then completed an MS in chemistry and an MA in history of science both from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  Her graduate work in the history of science focused on early nineteenth-century chemistry in the city of Edinburgh, while her work in the chemistry was in a total synthesis laboratory.  At CHF, she worked on projects such as the Pew Biomedical Scholars, Women in Chemistry, Atmospheric Science, and Catalysis.