About the Book
A dying Emma Hanson asks her granddaughter to try to right a wrong that denied her a rightful place in history. Emma, a poor farm girl born in 1900, has exceptional scholastic ability and a deep fascination with the natural world. Despite fighting her way through poverty, her family’s indifference, and prejudices against women attaining an education, she attends college. Under the tutorage of the college’s only female professor, Emma conducts her first research with dung beetles and micro-organisms and knows she’s found her calling.
Emma manages to secure a faculty position at Harrington College and becomes a distinguished professor. In the lab, Emma and Joe Bellafiori, a young chemist, slowly unlock important secrets of genetic expression. The publication of their work is delayed by a prominent competing scientist who appears to take their work and publish it as his own.
The Lady Professor is a novel about the human side of real science, historically and scientifically accurate, portraying a transitional time for women in science.
In the Media
“From science to fiction: Switzer changes creative outlets after retirement” by Jason Lee Brown, Smile Politely
THE SKIES DARKENED to a glowering blue-gray in mid-afternoon, and heavy wind-borne snow began falling soon after; slanting sheets of white obscured the pupils’ view of the surrounding fields. Miss Connor was forced to light the kerosene lamps because the daylight from the tall schoolhouse windows became too dim. A cold draft chilled the older pupils, whose desks were ranked along the west wall nearest the windows and distant from the coal-burning stove in the center of the room, but Emma Hansen was warmly dressed and so absorbed in solving algebra problems that she didn’t notice the approaching snowstorm until an especially strong wind gust rattled the windows.
It would be a cold walk home through snow-clotted roads; there would be no shortcut through corn stubble. She would much rather stay here in her favorite place, the Hamilton Grove School, warmly encouraged by Miss Connor, than trudge to the big old farmhouse where evening chores and an ill-tempered mother awaited her.
Emma dwelt in two worlds, both situated in the undulating fields and woods of a northwestern Illinois farming community and peopled by second- and third-generation northern European immigrant families like the Hansens, but separated by a mile and a half: the world of the little one-room country school where she now sat, and the world of the farm where she lived with her parents and her siblings: three older and one younger. She much preferred the school. Although she was not yet thirteen, she was in the eighth grade because she had skipped third grade. If some of the sixth and seventh graders called her teacher’s pet, she didn’t mind, because it was true, but well deserved. Besides, the younger pupils adored “Miss Emma” because Miss Connor had deputized her to teach them reading and arithmetic; they flocked around her, competed to hold her hand. And—mirabili dictu—they learned as quickly under her guidance as they had from Miss Connor. Emma was the only eighth grader, so Miss Connor had designed a special program for her: algebra, Latin, English literature and grammar, geography and world history. It was not the standard eighth grade program prescribed by the county superintendent of schools, but his visits to the many rural schools in the county were so infrequent that he would never know.
Next spring, however, Emma would be forced to emerge, an uncertain butterfly, from this cocoon of success and approval; she would graduate from grade school and leave Miss Connor and Hamilton Grove School forever. She hoped to go on to the nearest “high” school in Stanton Mills, twelve miles away, but Emma knew little of high schools. Her two brothers and her sister had completed their education at eighth grade; she knew that it would be a struggle to persuade her parents to allow her to continue her education. It was an enticing, if slightly frightening prospect; she was prepared to fight for it.