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Marjorie MacDill Breit
(1896 – 1987)

 

During the mid-1920s, Marjorie MacDill worked at Science Service as the medical writer and editor. MacDill had an undergraduate degree from William Smith College and maintained a lifelong interest in wildlife ecology and zoology.(1) Her marriage in December 1927 to Carnegie Institution physicist Gregory Breit, however, took her into a wider world of international science and academic politics. She remained friends with her former colleagues, and a frequent contributor to Science Service until after World War II. Her correspondence with her former colleagues provides an especially lively record of some of the internal politics of academic physics during the 1930s.

MacDill left fulltime employment with Science Service in October 1928 but she continued to publish, under her maiden name, on topics that ranged from zoology and entomology to toys and bottled milk.(2) As her husband worked in laboratories around the country, including at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University, MacDill wrote for a wide range of publications to supplement their income. In 1934, Breit joined the faculty at the University of Wisconsin, but wartime work took him elsewhere. Marjorie spent some time during those years staying in the Washington area, interacting with Science Service staff, and writing freelance articles for various publications.

When former Science Service staff writer Emma Reh returned to the United States during 1931, she stayed with MacDill, and the two women worked on their book manuscripts during this period, providing mutual encouragement and criticism.(3)

Like many female journalists, MacDill sometimes placed her writing in "women’s pages" or magazines published for women. While she was living in Madison, Wisconsin, for example, she worked for a women’s page affiliated with the American Association of University Women. She also planned books on toys as well as about the childhoods of prominent American scientists.

While studying for a master’s degree at Columbia University in 1934, MacDill explained in a letter why she chose not to use her married name there: “I wanted to retain a little of my own identity when I signed up.”(4)

During the mid-1930s, probably because she and her husband were moving so often, to laboratories in Chicago, Switzerland, and New York, MacDill did not sell many stories to Science Service. In 1939, joking that she was fearful of losing her professional status and needed money for a pair of binoculars, she began to submit more stories and ideas.(5) Although MacDill never returned to Science Service for more than brief periods, she always strongly endorsed the organization's commitment to the highest standards of journalism, writing to one scientist that “Our news stories are devoid of sensationalism in so far as the facts on which they are based are unsensational. Our primary aim is to give accurate but interesting press accounts of happenings in science.”(6)

Notes

(1) Obituary for Marjorie MacDill Breit, Statesman-Journal ( Salem, Oregon), May 4, 1987, p. 2B. Thank you to Ellen Alers and Betsy Romeo of the Salem (Oregon) Public Library for this information.

(2) Record Unit 7091, Box 206, Folder 3 and Box 105, Folder 3.

(3) Record Unit 7091, Box 148, Folder 3, various correspondence dated 1931.

(4) Record Unit 7091, Box 152, Folder 10, letter dated May 8, 1934, from Marjorie MacDill Breit to Science Service staff.

(5) Record Unit 7091, Box 206, Folder 3, letter dated May 17, 1939, from Marjorie MacDill Breit to Science Service staff.

(6) Record Unit 7091, Box 101, Folder 1, letter dated December 8, 1927, from Marjorie MacDill Breit to Dr. George D. Williams.

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