ScienceThe First Lady of Engineering: Lost Women of Science...

The First Lady of Engineering: Lost Women of Science Podcast, Season 3, Episode 1


Along with her knack for fixing family home equipment in early childhood, Yvonne Y. Clark, generally known as Y.Y. all through her profession, was virtually born an engineer. And luckily, she had a household that nurtured her atypical curiosity—even when the segregated South made pursuing it nearly inconceivable.

With a librarian mom and a doctor father, Y.Y. was introduced up in a supportive, educated and affluent Black enclave of Louisville, Ky. Her mother and father nurtured her knack for engineering. She bought her begin as a younger baby when she repaired the household toaster. An early introduction to a Black pilot group impressed her to fly planes, and she or he utilized to the College of Louisville, the place she hoped to review engineering and finally aeronautics—till she realized her race disqualified her.

This podcast is distributed by PRX and printed in partnership with Scientific American.



Episode 1: If You Need It, You Will: Rising Up in Segregated Louisville

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: She was recognized in her household for with the ability to make things better. She grabbed the toaster and took it as much as her room, and determined she was going to take it aside and work out why it wasn’t working. And…

KATIE HAFNER: Oh my goodness… Who does that? 

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: I do know. She was younger. She was possibly 9.

KATIE HAFNER: I am Katie Hafner. And that is Misplaced Ladies of Science. We’re calling this season “The First Girl of Engineering.” It is about Yvonne Younger Clark, who we’ll come to know by her nickname, YY.

From day one at Misplaced Ladies of Science, we got down to embody feminine scientists in all their range. Anybody who has seen Hidden Figures or learn the e-book is aware of that feminine scientists are a splendidly various group—and at all times have been…

Our producer Sophie McNulty discovered YY in a e-book titled Black Ladies Scientists in the US, by Wini Warren. The chapter was a few mechanical engineer named Yvonne Younger Clark, whose ardour for tinkering led to a superb profession in each business and academia.  Round that point we would gotten on this thought of  “chains of data” and the significance—to at the present time—of feminine mentors for younger ladies in science. And we thought dedicating a full season to somebody who made educating and mentoring an enormous a part of her mission is likely to be fascinating. And we have been proper.

CHARLES FLACK: She was the primary African American feminine college member, in addition to the primary African American engineering feminine division head at Tennessee State. So when she was round, it was like, you recognize, you stroll completely different, you acted completely different.

PEGGY BAKER: You realize, you’re strolling down the corridor, “Baker!” I am like, “sure, ma’am.”

KATIE HAFNER: YY was beloved in her circles and properly past. In 1964, Ebony Journal ran an enormous profile of her. Amongst college students and fellow engineers, she was a star, a legend, even. 

Once I first seemed up YY, I discovered a slew of firsts: She was the primary lady to get a bachelor’s diploma in mechanical engineering from Howard College, the primary African American lady engineer employed at RCA-Victor, the primary African American member of the Society of Ladies Engineers, the primary lady to earn a grasp’s diploma in engineering administration from Vanderbilt College… 

I realized that at NASA, she labored on engines for the Saturn 5 rocket, which launched the primary astronauts to the moon. She helped design the sealed containers that transported moon rocks again to Earth. 

And most of this work she did over summer time breaks; as a result of in the course of the educational 12 months YY was educating. She taught mechanical engineering for 55 years at Tennessee State, a traditionally Black college in Nashville. She impressed generations of younger Black engineers, each women and men.

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: So I totally anticipated, it will be somebody that I might have some familiarity with. I imply, I’ve bought a reasonably good data of African American historical past and I…

KATIE HAFNER: That’s Carol Sutton Lewis—the identical particular person you heard on the very starting. Carol and I’ve been monitoring down YY’s story collectively, and having weekly telephone calls to the touch base.

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: …and what’s been actually fascinating is as we have now delved into her story as a, as a mechanical engineer and as a Black lady within the south, a whole lot of what we discover comes again to her household.

KATIE HAFNER: To inform YY’s story, which in some ways is a household story, Carol is becoming a member of me as cohost this season. She has a background as a lawyer, and she or he hosts her personal podcast known as Floor Management Parenting, which is a sequence of conversations about parenting Black and Brown youngsters.  

Carol did the majority of the reporting about YY Clark. 

So Carol, YY’s story is considered one of multitudes. The place did you begin?

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: So the very first thing I did was I went to Seattle to satisfy YY’s daughter, Carol Lawson.

Carol got here to the Airbnb the place I used to be staying. She pulled up in her automotive with stacks of fabric she had on her mother. 

Carol laid out all of the books and papers on a desk, and as soon as we sat down, we dove into the pictures.

CAROL LAWSON: That is Mother. 

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: Oh. Wow. At Redstone Arsenal in 1964. 

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: It’s a black and white shot of YY standing subsequent to a rocket with “U.S. Military” stenciled on the aspect—and she or he is beaming. She’s sporting a cute sleeveless costume and heels.  

CAROL LAWSON: There’s, there’s her and Hortense. 

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: This one’s a child image—little Yvonne, on her mom’s lap.

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: And take a look at the pearls. She’s holding her mom’s pearls.

KATIE HAFNER: YY was born Georgianna Yvonne Younger on April 13, 1929 in Houston, Texas. She was named after two of her nice aunts, Georgia and Anna, however she glided by her center title, Yvonne.

Proper from the beginning, Yvonne confirmed an curiosity in all issues mechanical.

ERECTOR CLIP 1: Erector: the all metal development set for inexperienced persons or younger builders or junior engineers.

KATIE HAFNER: YY beloved her Lincoln Logs and her Erector Set…toys that have been—on the time—solely marketed to boys.

ERECTOR CLIP 2: Erector has thrilling enchantment for all boys. 

KATIE HAFNER: YY’s early engineering initiatives weren’t restricted to her toys. In considered one of our weekly calls, Carol advised me about one second which may have been the pivotal one for YY’s profession trajectory… 

It’s time to elucidate what occurred with that toaster…

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: The household toaster stopped working, the toast was burning on one aspect and never heating up on the opposite, and her father stated to the housekeeper, “Effectively, we’ll get a brand new one.” And YY grabbed the toaster and took it as much as her room and determined she was going to take it aside and work out why it wasn’t working. 

And so she mounted it and she or he didn’t inform anybody. She snuck it again down into the kitchen.

The subsequent morning YY woke as much as the scent of toast. And she or he ran downstairs simply in time to witness the housekeeper saying to YY’s father, “Wow. You bought a brand new toaster actually shortly,” to which YY’s father responded, “I did not purchase a brand new toaster,” and he decided that YY had mounted it.

KATIE HAFNER: After a fast hearth security speak, he advised her how impressed he was.

KATIE HAFNER: Would not it converse volumes about her father too?

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: Oh, completely. The household’s perspective was if you wish to do that, let’s work out the way you do that and we’ll help you doing it.

KATIE HAFNER: YY’s household would make all of the distinction when it got here to nurturing her pursuits, and finally, serving to her construct a profession. 

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: Her mom, Hortense Houston Younger, grew up in Texas…

CAROL LAWSON: She went to Fisk… 

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: That’s Fisk College, a traditionally Black school in Nashville…

CAROL LAWSON: …majored in English…

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: …after which bought a second bachelor’s diploma in library science from the College of Illinois…

CAROL LAWSON: And she or he additionally married my grandfather, Dr C. Milton Younger.

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: YY’s father, Dr. Coleman Milton Younger, studied drugs at Fisk, and the household finally moved to Louisville, Kentucky.

TOM OWEN: They lived within the 800 block, 818, South sixth Avenue. So the standard Black enterprise district, would’ve been about 5 blocks to the north,

KATIE HAFNER: Tom Owen is an archivist on the College of Louisville. Carol and I sat down to speak to him about his true ardour: town of Louisville itself.

TOM OWEN: I am 82 years previous. I nonetheless do strolling excursions, bicycle excursions, that is about it. A Louisville native.

KATIE HAFNER: Tom advised us he typically bikes previous YY’s previous block. It is auto retailers and therapeutic massage parlors now, however again within the thirties, it was a row of brick, shotgun-style homes, the place higher center class Black households lived.

TOM OWEN: Yvonne was raised in a household that will have been among the many most comfy African American households right here in Louisville.

KATIE HAFNER: The Youngs hosted derby events and political fundraisers. YY’s father, the physician…

TOM OWEN: He was on the employees of the non-public, uh, African American hospital known as Pink Cross hospital. And he was chief of employees for a, a season. He additionally was the, uh, doctor at Louisville Municipal, which was a racially separate undergraduate school of the College of Louisville.

KATIE HAFNER: Hortense labored on the College too, as a librarian. She additionally wrote a newspaper column for the Louisville Defender. It was known as “Tense Subjects,” each as a result of her nickname was Tense, and since she wrote concerning the points that riled her up most: segregation, housing discrimination, and civil rights. 

Thirties Louisville gave her lots to work with: On the time, there was just one division retailer in Louisville the place Black clients might attempt on garments. YY’s college, like all faculties, was segregated, and Black residents lived with the fixed risk of racist violence, together with the specter of lynchings.

TOM OWEN: It isn’t a reasonably image.

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: This was the world YY—and her youthful brother, Milton—have been introduced up in. A segregated metropolis, within the segregated South, at the beginning of the Nice Melancholy. YY would want greater than a knack for equipment to make it as an engineer. 

Her daughter, Carol, factors to 2 sources of energy YY drew from: the primary was that, from a really early age… 

CAROL LAWSON: She was a congenital stutterer.

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: When YY began college, she stuttered. And as you may think, the reactions from different youngsters weren’t variety. It reached a degree the place YY virtually stopped speaking in her lessons.

CAROL LAWSON: That was an early introduction to, not discrimination, however ailing emotions from different people for no motive. 

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: However YY bought one thing out of all of this—one thing Carol calls her “rhino-skin.” 

CAROL LAWSON: If you’re subjected to that at an early age, you begin to be taught quite a bit about people and recognizing, that is your drawback. I am not fallacious. That is your drawback. I bought to decelerate what I’ve to say so I may be clear. However I’m proper. Simply because I stutter doesn’t suggest I am fallacious.

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: The second supply of YY’s energy takes a bit of extra explaining. When Carol began exhibiting me the books she’d introduced, I shortly found…

CAROL LAWSON: Most of them are about her household.

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: YY’s household has an enchanting historical past—and it’s recorded.

CAROL LAWSON: That is The Valuable Reminiscences of a Black Socialite: A Narrative of the Life and Instances of Constance Houston Thompson. Who’s she? She’s my mother’s mom’s sister. 

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: Carol had all these books about her mom’s kin, and so they went again a number of generations.

CAROL LAWSON: And so this one is the motion of rural African-People to Houston, talking particularly concerning the Houston household.

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: YY’s household, on her mom’s aspect, have been Houstons. And the rationale that they had the final title Houston… 

CAROL LAWSON: So the e-book is concerning the legacy of the slaves of Sam Houston.

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: Normal Sam Houston, founding father of Texas, motive why town of Houston known as Houston, owned slaves. 

And one of many males he enslaved was…

CAROL LAWSON: Joshua Houston 

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: YY’s nice grandfather.

SKIP GATES: Our ancestors have been, by legislation, they have been owned by different folks, proper? They have been property, they have been commodities. They have been chattel.

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: That is Henry Louis Gates, Jr., or as he’s known as by many, Skip Gates. 

SKIP GATES: In actuality, they have been human beings combating for his or her humanity, simply as Joshua Houston Sr. was.

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: Skip Gates is a historian, professor, and literary critic who serves as Director of the Hutchins Middle for African and African American Analysis at Harvard College. You may know him because the host of the PBS sequence Discovering Your Roots

Like me, he was to find YY’s lineage and to find out about Joshua Houston. 

SKIP GATES: You realize, he is been written about…

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: YY’s nice grandfather, Joshua Houston, was born into slavery in 1822, in Alabama. And one of many first issues I realized about him was that he might learn and write. This was at a time when in lots of Southern states, that was unlawful.

SKIP GATES: In Joshua Houston’s case, he participated in Bible examine whereas owned by his first grasp and mistress, Temple and Nancy Lee.

When Temple Lee died, he left Joshua to his daughter, Margaret, and as you recognize, Margaret would marry Sam Houston.

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: Their marriage is how Joshua Houston wound up in Texas with the final title Houston. 

His training meant that following the Civil Struggle and emancipation, Joshua was in a greater place to pursue life as a free man. He purchased property, and opened his personal blacksmith’s store. 

This was in the course of the time generally known as Reconstruction, within the years after the conflict.

SKIP GATES: the hallmarks of reconstruction have been the ratification of what we now name the Reconstruction Constitutional Amendments: the thirteenth modification…

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: …which ended slavery…

SKIP GATES: The 14th modification…

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: …which established birthright citizenship, and gave all US residents equal safety below the legislation.

SKIP GATES: After which lastly the fifteenth modification, which gave all Black males the best to vote.

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: A proper that was unprecedented, and eagerly exercised.

SKIP GATES: The primary freedom summer time, as I put it, was the summer time of 1867, when all these Black males previously enslaved and free bought the best to vote. They registered to vote in that first freedom summer time, 80%. Take into consideration that.

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: And a few of them ran for workplace—together with Joshua Houston.

SKIP GATES: He was a metropolis alderman in Huntsville, Texas in 1867 and in 1870, and he gained election as a county commissioner in 1878 and in 1882.

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: Joshua went on to have eight youngsters, and he made certain in addition they had entry to training and alternatives. One in every of his sons went to Howard College and in the end based a faculty—the primary African American college in Texas to go to the twelfth grade. 

The Houston youngsters have been politically engaged, college-educated, and so they owned property.

SKIP GATES: And so I did some analysis and about 20% of the Black group was in a position to personal property by 1900.

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: Which implies, in fact, 80% did not. The Houstons have been a part of a small, privileged class of Black people who flourished throughout Reconstruction. 

SKIP GATES: So we have at all times had these class divisions throughout the African American group.

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: The Houston household historical past illuminates part of Black historical past that always will get misplaced—and that’s the historical past of Black prosperity. 

Nonetheless, their relative privilege didn’t finish the fact of racism, or the potential for violence. Particularly as a result of within the wake of the enlargement of rights throughout Reconstruction, there was a brutal backlash.

SKIP GATES: The Freedmen’s Bureau in Texas has a register of, of murders itemizing over a thousand within the 12 months between 1865 and 1866.

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: Black folks confronted a continuing terrorist risk. 

So vigilante violence, in different phrases, was a steady a part of Reconstruction.

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS:And shortly, the legislative rollback started. Legal guidelines have been put into place to reestablish a system of financial and political disenfranchisement for Black People. This was the so-called “Redemption” of the Southern states.

SKIP GATES: And it has that humorous title as a result of these racists saying, they have been redeeming the purity of the South, due to the evils of what they known as Negro rule.

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: Reconstruction and its early promise of increasing rights collapsed in 1877, when federal troops pulled out of the South.

SKIP GATES: And it was these federal troops that have been guaranteeing the best of Black males to vote within the south.

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: With out that assure, it turned all too simple for the so-called Redeemers to strictly implement segregation. For Black People like YY’s household, this meant forging their very own world.

SKIP GATES: in case you lifted up the curtain, the colour curtain, Black folks below segregation, weren’t saying woe is me and never, you recognize, begging for admission into the white world.

They shaped a wealthy and numerous and various and nurturing Black world that had deep roots and sustained us.

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: YY’s kin have been exemplars of this legacy. They gathered in Black fraternities and sororities, at cotillions, bridge events. They created sturdy, resilient communities and located methods to thrive. Her household included journalists, docs, cooks, lecturers.  

CAROL LAWSON: And she or he knew them. And so they weren’t legendary folks on the wall that I’ve seen, you recognize, and grandma advised me a narrative, you recognize, she knew these folks.

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: This was the second supply of YY’s energy. 

CAROL LAWSON: And, and it helps you perceive why Yvonne was the best way Yvonne was, or YY was the best way she was. They have been all about selling, defending, and uplifting Black people. 110%. 

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: Developing, YY’s household must put up a combat…

CAROL LAWSON: Do not do something fallacious to Black people. Trigger we’re gonna come get you. 

YY: I’m Yvonne Y. Clark. 78. At this time’s date is October the twenty sixth, 2007. Nashville, Tennessee. And I’m being interviewed by my daughter. 

KATIE HAFNER: That’s YY you’re listening to. 

This tape is from a StoryCorps interview she recorded along with her daughter, Carol Lawson.

YY died in 2019, a number of months shy of 90 years previous.

CAROL LAWSON: So Yvonne… Mother.

YY: Thanks.

CAROL LAWSON: Inform me, why did you wish to change into an engineer?

YY: I wished to ferry airplanes between the US and England.

KATIE HAFNER: This was the early Nineteen Forties, and the US had simply entered World Struggle II. The Youngs opened up their Louisville residence to the Black navy personnel based mostly in Kentucky. Right here’s YY describing that.

YY: Mother and pop had events and the Godman Discipline pilots would come by the home. That was the Black pilot group. You’d hear them discuss their flyings round the US and the world, and it made me wish to fly.

KATIE HAFNER: I simply must say, Carol, that—I like her voice a lot. 

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: Yeah, completely.

KATIE HAFNER: Anyway, so she, she determined to change into a pilot. And the Godman pilots she met that evening, they have been all males. However she didn’t—one factor that’s placing me about the entire YY story so far is that the truth that she was a lady doesn’t appear to have figured into that. So anyway, however on the time, it appeared like a future in aviation is likely to be potential for a younger lady, too… 

ARCHIVAL TAPE: That is Texas, cradle of our Military’s airforce.

KATIE HAFNER: With so many male pilots abroad, the US Military Air Pressure started to recruit ladies. 

ARCHIVAL TAPE: And out of these buses are stepping women, women who give a unique approach to an airforce story. They’re WASPS.

KATIE HAFNER: These “women” have been generally known as Ladies Air Pressure Service Pilots, or WASPs. 

ARCHIVAL TAPE: No one ought to ever inform a WASP that flying’s not a lady’s job. They would not consider it.

KATIE HAFNER: However on the time that YY bought occupied with flying, there have been no Black WASPs. Mildred Hemmons Carter, a Black pilot who skilled at Tuskegee, utilized, and certified, however was rejected on the idea of race.

That didn’t cease YY. She had made up her thoughts—she was going to make use of her mechanical abilities in direction of aviation. And since all of the pilots she talked to had studied engineering, she determined to do the identical. 

MILTON CLARK: Actually the subsequent day, she went right down to Central Excessive Faculty and seemed up what their engineering programs have been in order that she might join them for the subsequent semester.

KATIE HAFNER: That’s YY’s son, Milton Clark. 

MILTON CLARK: She had purchased her T-square and she or he purchased her protractor and every thing that she wanted to take the course. And when she went to the classroom, the teacher would not let her in… as a result of she was a feminine.

KATIE HAFNER: YY known as this her first expertise of “pure sexism.” Why  “pure?” As a result of, in her phrases, “it made no logical sense.” That’s one thing to notice about YY; for her, discrimination wasn’t simply morally fallacious, it was fallacious as a result of it defied motive. It’s inconceivable to disentangle YY’s ethics, her spirit, and her world view from her adherence to logic and motive.

Her rejection from the varsity’s mechanical drawing course was additionally fully completely different from how she was accustomed to being handled at residence. Her mother and father nurtured her ambitions, and once they stated no, that they had good motive. 

And it was her mother and father who, by means of their tight-knit, proficient, various group, provided YY a path to the sky. 


YY: Mother had a pal. He had an airplane, 

KATIE HAFNER: YY’s mom bought her pal to take them on a flight. Hortense sat within the again, so her daughter might sit within the cockpit subsequent to the pilot.

YY: And, uh, he let me take over the controls as soon as he took off and mother was on the passenger seat within the again, it was good.

CAROL LAWSON: In order that’s form of the place all of it started.

YY: Mmmhmm.


KATIE HAFNER: Again at college, YY discovered a sensible workaround after being rejected from the mechanical drawing class: She signed as much as take the course over the summer time, with a special trainer. 

One other semester, she took an aeronautics class, the place she realized concerning the mechanics of airplanes.

YY: That was, that was cool. We might make planes. You’ll exit on the hearth escape, roll your propeller, after which purpose it on the soccer subject and watch it fly.

KATIE HAFNER: YY zoomed by means of highschool. After solely two years, she graduated within the high 25% of her class at Central Excessive Faculty in Louisville. She was solely 16. 

Her mother and father thought that was too younger to begin school, in order that they despatched her up north to stick with a household pal, and take a number of extra programs… 

YY: So I went to Boston for 2 years and attended Ladies Latin, the place I took French and Latin, et cetera.

KATIE HAFNER: Two years later, when she turned 18, it was time to use to varsity.

YY: I utilized to College of Louisville, down the road from me, uh, College of Illinois at Urbana, and Howard College in Washington, DC. 

KATIE HAFNER: In response to Milton, her son, YY was accepted in any respect three faculties. However after two years in Boston, her choice was to remain near residence.

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: So YY picked the College of Louisville. And as Milton tells it, in 1947, she went to a scheduled orientation along with her mom, Hortense, acceptance letter in hand. YY’s daughter Carol tells us that YY was all set to substantiate attendance…

CAROL LAWSON: Till they discovered she was Black. After which they stated, oh no, you’ll be able to’t come.

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: As in lots of different occasions, in YY’s life, every thing was wonderful till they noticed her. As YY herself advised her daughter Carol,

YY: I could not get in


YY: A Black down south.

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: The College of Louisville was a segregated college.

TOM OWEN: The most important impediment was known as the Day Regulation.

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: That’s Tom Owen once more.

TOM OWEN: And that had primarily been interpreted as a prohibition towards biracial training in each private and non-private establishments.

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: Even when the College of Louisville had wished to enroll YY, at the moment in Kentucky, due to the Day Regulation, it was truly unlawful for them to take action. 

KATIE HAFNER: YY would have been anticipated to attend the segregated Black undergraduate school the place each her mother and father labored, Louisville Municipal. However Municipal didn’t provide the lessons that YY wanted.

TOM OWEN: They’d have some technical programs, however no, to my data, they didn’t have a program in engineering in any respect.

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: Separate however equal was a fiction–as a lot in Kentucky greater training as anyplace else. 

And the NAACP was consistently looking out for instances that will show it…

TOM OWEN: Starting within the Thirties, it was clear that the NAACP was pushing to get entry to graduate training in Kentucky.

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: In 1941, the NAACP had taken on the case of an aspiring engineering scholar from Louisville named Charles Lamont Eubanks. The state’s segregated Black school had no engineering program, so Eubanks utilized to the native all-white public college, and was rejected. In the long run, the case was dismissed. Eubanks, or any Black highschool graduate in Kentucky who wished to review engineering, must look out of state. 

KATIE HAFNER: Just about every thing was set as much as encourage YY to both hand over on engineering, or go to high school elsewhere. The truth is, in Kentucky…

TOM OWEN: There was a fund to pay African People to go to graduate college out of state. It did not pay for bills or dwelling bills to go away the state and the fund was continuously depleted.

KATIE HAFNER: Not solely was the fund inadequate, graduate college students got precedence. YY was making use of as an undergraduate, so she would have discovered it troublesome to qualify. 

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: However YY had gotten admitted—she had the letter. YY’s mother and father weren’t going to take this mendacity down. Bear in mind, that is Hortense we’re speaking about—NAACP member, journalist…So YY’s mother and father…

CAROL LAWSON: Being the educated people that know what our rights are, stated, you recognize what? We’ll take you to court docket. After which we’ll determine if she will be able to come.

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: Hortense threatened to take authorized motion. She spent a number of days negotiating straight with the College of Louisville. If her daughter’s acceptance letter wasn’t going to get her admission, Hortense was going to ensure it bought her one thing.

YVONNE CLARK: I requested mother, properly, we dwell proper there in Louisville. Why cannot we get room and board? Mother stated, depart it alone, honey, depart it alone. I stated, okay, mother, you’re in cost.

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: Finally, they labored out a deal: Louisville would cowl YY’s tuition at a faculty that admitted Black college students, and the household would agree to not sue the college.

YVONNE CLARK: And College of Louisville paid my tuition at Howard College.

KATIE HAFNER: We puzzled if the College of Louisville had any information from 1947, when YY began college. So we requested Tom to look. He did a whole lot of digging. Three days straight of combing by means of metropolis directories, newspaper clippings, and the college’s personal archives…And he discovered a file.

TOM OWEN: And guess what it was titled? Negro Admissions. I bought these three goddamn recordsdata out. They begin in 1948, not 1947, and she or he’s not in there.

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: However I simply couldn’t depart it at that. I requested Tom, “Isn’t it potential that the College didn’t need this on the report in any respect? Couldn’t the negotiations have occurred behind closed doorways?”

TOM OWEN: Oh, I haven’t got any hassle believing that it might have occurred. I am simply, you recognize, my, my, my orientation is give me the paper, give me the doc. And I want, I want, you recognize, if I might dwell so lengthy, I might carry on wanting.

KATIE HAFNER: My query was why she utilized there within the first place. I’ve little doubt that YY’s household knew that the College of Louisville was a segregated college. They labored at Municipal, the College’s all-Black undergraduate school.

TOM OWEN: That doesn’t shock me. Hortense appears, simply wanting on the clips, clips, clips, clips, appears intense to me, dedicated to me, pushing on the sides, difficult issues. And so that doesn’t shock me.

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: It actually didn’t shock me both. This properly educated, civically minded Black household is coping with a rule that claims their whip good daughter, who wished to be an engineer, was being denied that chance solely as a result of she was Black? When the Youngs noticed an unjust rule, they refused to simply accept it. And so they actively challenged it.

TOM OWEN: Hortense particularly was only a civic activist within the fullest sense of the phrase.

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: YY may properly have utilized to the College of Louisville totally figuring out how unlikely it was that she would have the ability to attend. The NAACP was making use of this technique throughout the nation  deliberately exposing and difficult discrimination. This was a template for the civil rights motion.  

It wouldn’t be till 1948, the 12 months after YY utilized to the College of Louisville, that the NAACP filed the case that will overturn segregated greater training in Kentucky.

TOM OWEN: And Lyman Johnson was the profitable one.

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: Lyman Johnson was a social research trainer and NAACP member in Louisville. He taught at YY’s college—the segregated Central Excessive Faculty. Not like YY, he was making use of for graduate examine—a PhD. It was instantly evident that Kentucky State, a Black undergraduate school, wouldn’t present him with the coursework {that a} white PhD scholar would obtain on the College of Kentucky. He sued the College in 1948, and in 1949, he gained.

KATIE HAFNER: This victory didn’t make a lot distinction to YY, who was already at Howard by then, but it surely modified a number of issues for her household. The truth is, quickly after YY made her take care of the College of Louisville…

MILTON CLARK: My uncle, her brother, made software. 

KATIE HAFNER: Milton advised us that YY’s youthful brother additionally utilized to the College of Louisville. 

MILTON CLARK: So it was form of like, okay right here come the Youngs once more.

KATIE HAFNER: This time, the college knew who they have been coping with. Plus, the choice within the Lyman Johnson case had simply come out the earlier spring, which is how…

MILTON CLARK: It is my uncle, her brother, who broke the colour barrier. And my grandmother broke the colour barrier on the legislation college.

KATIE HAFNER: That is proper. Hortense would later go to legislation college on the College of Louisville. In 1951, she was considered one of 4 Black college students to enroll.

MILTON CLARK: And that is the factor, you recognize, we discuss mother, however the household is basically the dynamic that is in play right here.

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: YY’s household didn’t create her ardour, her skills. These have been her personal. What her household did do, and what they might proceed to do, was make her pursuits viable in a world that wasn’t truthful.

MILTON CLARK: There was nothing out of bounds along with her mother and father.

YY: They did not put obstacles in entrance of me. They stated, if you’d like it, you’ll. 

CAROL LAWSON: I feel that is one thing that we most likely, whilst a group now, do not give sufficient credit score to: simply how a lot effort it might take to lift an Yvonne.

KATIE HAFNER: Subsequent time on Misplaced Ladies of Science, YY leaves the nest.

This has been Misplaced Ladies of Science. Due to everybody who made this initiative occur, together with our co-executive producer Amy Scharf, producer Ashraya Gupta, senior editor Nora Mathison, affiliate producer Sinduja Srinivasan, composer Elizabeth Younan, and the engineers at Studio D Podcast Manufacturing. 

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: Thanks to Milton H. Clark, Sr. A lot of this story comes from his e-book, Six Levels of Freedom.

KATIE HAFNER: We’re grateful to Mike Fung, Cathie Bennett Warner, Dominique Guilford, Jeff DelViscio, Maria Klawe, Michelle Nijhuis, Susan Kare, Jeannie Stivers, Carol Lawson, and our interns, Hilda Gitchell and Hannah Carroll. Thanks additionally to Paula Goodwin, Nicole Searing and the remainder of the authorized group at Perkins Coie. Many because of Barnard School, a pacesetter in empowering younger ladies to pursue their ardour in STEM.

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: Thanks to Tennessee State College, the Smithsonian’s Nationwide Air and House Museum, the College of Louisville, and the College of Alabama in Huntsville for serving to us with our search. 

And a particular shout out to the Print Store on Martha’s Winery…

KATIE HAFNER: …and my closet, the place this podcast was recorded.

Misplaced Ladies of Science is funded partially by the Gordon and Betty Moore Basis, and the John Templeton Basis, which catalyzes conversations about dwelling purposeful and significant lives. 

This podcast is distributed by PRX and printed in partnership with Scientific American.

You possibly can be taught extra about our initiative at or observe us on Twitter and Instagram. Discover us @lostwomenofsci. That’s misplaced ladies of S C I.

Thanks a lot for listening. 

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: I’m Carol Sutton Lewis.

KATIE HAFNER: And I’m Katie Hafner.


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