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Innovation and Inspiration: The Campaign for Kansas University
University Archives & Manuscripts - K-State Women
Mary Harman: Dr. Mary T. Harman by Robert K. Nabours

We had invited applications for an instructorship in the newly established Department of Zoology, in K-State. That was in the summer of 1912. Among the applicants was a young woman, Mary T. Harman. She had been awarded Indiana university degrees: AB, 1907; AM, 1909; PhD, 1912, and membership in Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi. She had been assistant, fellow, and instructor in zoology in Indiana university and Pennsylvania State college, 1907-1912. Her application was supported by excellent recommendations from professors of standing, and a photograph betokened her personal comeliness.

The departing former head of the combined department of entomology and zoology (recently separated) said, "I wouldn't have a woman in the department, if I were you, but Dr. Harman stands far ahead of any of the men applicants." But Dean Willard and I wanted the woman. The sagacious Dean knew it would be necessary to circumvent President Waters' aversion to women in science departments. So in presenting our recommendation he arranged the applications, two or three of the men's on top, and Dr. Harman's third or fourth.

The Dean reported that the President looked over the papers and photographs of the men without enthusiasm, but on coming to Dr. Harman's data, he perked up and said, "What a pity she isn't a man!" Then softening, "We can't afford to appoint a woman to that position, I suppose?" Willard waited discreetly while the President shifted the applications back and forth and argued with himself. "Well, since you are so insistent, we'll appoint her, but," banging his desk, "don't bring in the application of any other woman for such a position!"

We had made a very fortunate choice. Coinciding with, and appreciably consequent on Dr. Harman's advent, there came about a renaissance in the spirit and substance of teaching and research in the zoological subjects and, indeed, in biology throughout the institution. As instances, professors such as Edward Wentworth, William Lippincott, and John Parker and their students of the applied biology departments enrolled in her classes in cytology and embryology, and participated in the seminars. Several went on for the doctorate in leading universities.

During her long tenure, Dr. Harman taught full, usually heavy, schedules. Along with this service, she directed the studies and researches of graduate students-more than 25 majors and as many minors. She was a consistently progressive, exacting, yet just teacher and director of researches, counselor, and always constructively cooperative. She has been author, or co-author with her graduate students of 45 technical papers, and many more popular contributions to journals. She was author of a textbook and accompanying laboratory outlines of embryology. She made many radio talks, spoke at clubs, and carried on considerable correspondence, mainly pertaining to bird life, of which she has been a life-long student.

Dr. Harman spent one year abroad, visiting leading biological institutions, and was American Association of University Women scholar in the Naples Biological station. She regularly attended and participated in the programs of national biological organizations and was a member. She worked summers in the Woods Hole Marine Biological station, and was in charge of the embryological work two summers at the Puget Sound Biological station.

She was a member of Phi Kappa Phi, Gamma Sigma Delta, Americal Association for the Advancement of Science, American Society of Zoologists, American Naturalists, Genetics Society of America, and Kansas Academy of Science (president, 1926). She was a lively participant in conventions of all these scientific organizations, though she was usually one of only three or four women attending-and sometimes the only woman present. The men enjoyed her thoroughly for her geniality, her wit--welcomed her whole-heartedly to all their sessons, even including the smokers.

This jovial side of her nature along with her scientific probity and general good sense made her a prime favorite. She was the life of the picnic as well as the disciplinarian of the laboratory.

She was a founder and for 25 years financial secretary and faculty adviser for KSC's Chi Omega sorority. She was also one of the founders of the K-State Social club. She was long a member of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, and the Country club. In the Congregational church she taught Sunday school 35 years, served on the college board 16 years, and as clerk of the church seven years.

Dr. Harman has been very much more than a nominal member of all these important scientific and social organizations and committees; she has been an enthusiastic, sagacious, and constructive hard worker in them, and the numerous unclassifiable activities of the community. She regularly cultivated one of the best gardens in town and was an ardent golfer, having won a number of trophies in tournaments. Along with her extraordinarily active and effective professional and social life she has been an alert, successful business woman.

Dr. Harman financed the education of two nieces: Thelma Harman, '38, and Rose (Harman) Pugh, '41. Both are Chi Omegas, both lifetime members of the KSC Alumni association. Thelma is a dietitian in Walter Reed Army hospital, a captain in the Army. Rose became an Army nurse but now lives with her husband and three children near her Aunt Mary's new home.

Following her official retirement in 1948 Dr. Harman continued for seven years the course in cytology, served as adviser of premedical students, and as zoology editor of the Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science, was active in the seminars, other institutional and civic affairs, cultivated her garden, and played golf. In July, 1955, 43 years after coming to K-State, she moved to Camden, N.C., built a new home, and started another garden on a half-acre tract near the Atlantic Ocean. There she has a succession of blooms practically the year around, from camellias in January on through tulips, hyacinths, and chrysanthemums. Anyone who has seen the wonderful gardens she had when she lived in Manhattan can visualize her vegetables and flowers in the new setting. What a woman! What a life!

Source: K-Stater, June 1956
Article appears here with permission from the K-State Alumni Association.
Any typographical errors are the result of retyping.