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Isabelle Stone was born October 18, 1868, in Chicago. She attended Wellesley College as an undergraduate and earned a bachelor’s degree in music. She enrolled at the University of Chicago for graduate school, working with future Nobel laureate Albert A. Michelson. She earned a PhD in physics in 1897, the first woman to earn this degree in the University’s history. She’s also thought to be the second woman in the U.S. to earn a doctorate in physics. The first graduated a mere two years earlier.


The life-long educator taught multiple subjects, including astronomy and algebra, at a settlement house in Chicago while she was a graduate student; in later years she opened a school for girls in Rome and one in Washington D.C. with her sister. Her physics career included working as an instructor in the physics department at Vassar College, where she stayed from 1898-1906. While at Vassar, Stone also conducted research at Columbia University on electrical resistance and other properties of thin films. She later established the department of physics at Sweet Briar College, which she headed from 1916-1923.


Stone became one of the 36 founding members of the American Physical Society when it met for the first time on May 30, 1899. She was one of two women who helped form the organization. One year later, Stone and Marie Curie were the only women out of more than 800 in attendance at the first International Congress of Physics in Paris. This pioneering physicist lived until her late 90s, dying in North Miami, Florida, in 1966.

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First woman to earn a PhD in physics from UChicago, second in the nation


Photo Source: The Briar Patch College Yearbook, 1920

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