Cynthia Hope '47
Glad scientist: Hope experiments at the Museum of Science
As a volunteer at the Museum of Science in Boston, Cynthia Hope ’47 spends two weekends per month guiding interested visitors through various science experiments. Now retired from her pioneering career as an analytic chemist, Hope helps her students, children and adults alike, to think like scientists. Hope encourages them to move through the scientific method “step by step”—which, perhaps not coincidentally, is exactly how she navigated her long, successful career as a chemist in a field traditionally dominated by men.
A native of Lakewood, Ohio, Hope’s love of science blossomed during her years at Sarah Lawrence. She studied with Ralph Altschul, who taught chemistry and physics and was known for instilling in students the value of self-education. Hope recalls that, “He gave us the right concepts and the right approach.”
Although she had planned on pursuing an advanced degree in chemistry, family life intervened. She married during World War II, when she was a junior at the College. She graduated and soon had three daughters. Fourteen years later, when the youngest turned eight, Hope was eager to make use of her scientific knowledge and began working as a technical librarian at American Cyanamid, a chemical manufacturer.
For some, not having an advanced degree would have been a deterrent to pursuing a lifelong career in science—but not for Hope: “In those days, it was possible to move forward without it. I eventually worked my way up.”
Hope took night courses in chemistry and eventually got a job as a chemist at Machlett Laboratories, a manufacturer of X-ray instruments. That industry hit hard times during the Vietnam War, so Hope started working at Lipton Tea as an analytic chemist, where she would remain until her retirement in 1989. When she started, she was the only female chemist in the product development division. Though Hope experienced her share of discrimination—in the form of sexual harassment and disparities in compensation—she defines her career not by the prejudices she faced, but by her passion for the science. Looking back, Hope says, “I always loved my work.”
Her work at Lipton involved analyzing product content for qualitative and quantitative elements. For example, if the company needed a way to determine how much caffeine was in a tea product, Hope and her team would develop the method of analysis—an entirely creative endeavor.
By the time Hope retired from Lipton, the field of chemistry looked very different from when she had started, thanks to technological advances such as computerized lab testing. For Hope, the changes were exciting, and she embraced every turn as an opportunity to learn something new.
This open-minded perspective has served Hope well over the years. Upon her retirement, she moved to Wellfleet, Mass., a picturesque seaside town on the outer reaches of Cape Cod. Today, in addition to her volunteer post at the Museum of Science in Boston, she takes courses at Cape Cod Community College, where she studies ancient Middle Eastern history and participates in a writing workshop with other seniors. (“We learn so much from one another,” she says of the writing group.)
Rounding out her engagements is the work she does for her church and for the town of Wellfleet, where she serves on the open spaces and affordable housing committees. In addition, she is writing her memoirs, beginning from childhood experiences and continuing through to present day.
Though an unadulterated love of science has shaped her career, Hope’s curiosity is not limited to chemistry. She brings tremendous energy to everything she does, and education, for her, is a way of life.
— Suzanne Guillette MFA ’05