University of Texas
Lois Holt Mallory

 

 

Lois Holt Mallory, 1946


Note added by Mel Oakes:

In December of 2009, Lois Holt Mallory kindly sent a letter and a photograph to Richard Hazeltine, then chair of the physics department. It was a photograph she had received from Dr. Donald D. Phillips who taught her Physics 801 class at UT in the Fall of 1946. In 1946, Don was a UT graduate student. Lois had reconnected with him around 1980 when both were working for Los Alamos National Laboratory. Upon receiving the photograph, Hazeltine passed it to me since I had always been interested in the history of the physics department. There were no identifications attached to the picture, however, I did see some of the long-retired faculty that I could identify but most were unknown to me. Hazeltine, Professor David Gavenda and I had a brief email exchange lamenting the lack of any history information about the department. Gavenda had given a paper at a Texas physics conference on physics in Texas which contained some information about the UT department. I agreed to create a web site dedicated to the history of the department. My first step was to contact Lois for information about the picture. She was most cooperative and provided many identifications and suggested names of some who might be in the picture. My first project was to focus on the picture. Lois agreed to help. A bit of a breakthrough occurred when George Thurston, a graduate student in the picture and then a retired UT professor of mechanical engineering, remembered that the picture had something to do with the physics honor organization, Sigma Pi Sigma. Lois and I have succeeded in identifying all but one person in the photo. Lois's contribution did not stop there, she generously offered to proof all the articles on the web site. This was a tremendous help and greatly improved the site. In addition, Lois suggested the names of graduate students and faculty that she remembered. These very often led to valuable articles about their careers and contributions to the state and to the nation. It is impossible for me to overestimate the value of Lois' collaboration. It is greatly appreciated, and I am very much in her debt and honored to call her my friend. Following many requests, Lois agreed to provide her biography. It offers a unique window into the department in the 1940s.

Lois Holt Mallory

I was born at home in a farmhouse south of Austin to James Holt (1903–1966) and Ozelma Stewart Holt (1904–1998) on March 1, 1929, a few months before the stock market crashed. Both of my parents were born and grew up on farms south of Austin in the Pleasant Hill community. I have a sister, Margaret, who is four years older. The photo at right, reading left to right, is of me, Margaret and our neighbor Joe Greer Russell (1926–2008). The photo is from 1929. Joe Greer had a successful career as an artist. Most of his works were devoted to western subjects. President and Lady Bird Johnson owned a number of his paintings and invited him to their ranch to paint a scene there.

 

 

 

 

 

As the Depression unfolded, my parents were caught owning a farm at the same time as building a house in the new suburban La Prelle Place development south of Austin near the Texas School for the Deaf. They lost the farm and had difficulty meeting the payments on the new house that we moved into when I was six months old. Until I was a teenager, we sometimes had relatives stay with us to help with the bills. Families like mine had difficult times during the Great Depression. My father worked at the US Post Office and my mother later became a supervisor for Internal Revenue Service at the regional processing center south of Austin. My mother’s picture, when she was about 22 years old, is shown at left.

No one in my father's family had attended college since the Civil War and most had not attended high school including my father. My mother graduated from Austin High School in 1921 when it was at 9th and Trinity Street. She attended the University of Texas to receive a certificate as a public school teacher and then taught at Pleasant Hill School for a couple of years until she married. Two of her brothers attended the University of Texas, living with us while they were students. The third brother attended Texas A & M for a short time, but dropped out and lived with us until he joined the US Navy in 1941.

 

 

 

I worked at E. M. Scarbrough's department store typing checks after school when I was attending Austin High School located at 1212 Rio Grande Street. I was not expected nor encouraged to attend college. My father wanted me to become a secretary and get married. I wanted to go to college but didn't have much hope. My high school chemistry teacher, Dr. Clara Weisser, recommended me for a scholarship to the University of Texas from the Austin Altrusa Club of which she was a member. I was stunned and thrilled when it was announced at my graduation ceremony in 1946. I enrolled at the University of Texas that fall about a year after the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The $100 scholarship paid my freshman-year tuition at UT (it was $25/semester at that time), bought some used textbooks at the University Co-op and a pair of shoes. I sewed my clothes.

I was an A student in mathematics, physics, and chemistry in high school and sort of coasted through the freshman year declaring a major in physics. My freshman physics classes were taught by Don Phillips and Bill Robertson, both instructors at that time. My sophomore classes were taught by Assistant Professor Walter Pondrom and Professor S. Leroy Brown, and that year, very short of funds, I started grading homework papers, marking attendance for freshman classes and doing secretarial work for the Department of Physics. I cut mimeograph and ditto masters for examinations and typed correspondence. I took junior-level classes taught by Dr. Brown and Dr. Robert Watson. Dr. Brown's class was Vacuum Tubes and Class A1 Amplifiers.

In 1948, I married Bob Mallory, an architecture student who had attended Austin High School his senior year and had been in my homeroom class. I quit school to work more hours for Katherine Banks, secretary and librarian of the Department of Physics, to help support us. I loved working for her. I knew everyone in the department in some way. Dr. Darrell Hughes and Dr. Howard Coleman had government contracts that I worked on part-time. I continued to work for Miss Banks but also became the secretary of the Department of Engineering Mechanics half-time. At nights and weekends, I typed master's theses and dissertations for students in both departments and papers for publication.

I didn't know any other undergraduate women majoring in physics, but I’m sure there were some. Among the teaching fellows and graduate students, I was "La fille du régiment." The Physics Building became my home away from home. Actually, there had been two graduate students living in the building surreptitiously. I had a key to the elevator and an office assigned for grading papers that I shared with two graduate students. One day, I rode the elevator with Professor Emeritus John Mathias Kuehne whom I had not yet met and he said, "Young woman, you have a most beautiful smile." That could win any girl's heart.

Later, I transcribed a book Dr. Kuehne was writing on photography. I was delegated by Miss Banks for this task because I could interpret Dr. Kuehne's 19th-century script. Dr. Kuehne rewarded me with a gift of his Negative Charge and Positive Charge photographs that had recently been published in the Scientific American. I treasure them to this day, and they hang in my living room.

My husband graduated from UT with a Bachelor of Architecture degree in 1950 and went to work for Fehr and Granger in Austin. I worked for the Department of Physics until 1951 when we moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he had been hired by Donald Stevens, a University of Texas architecture professor whom he greatly admired and who had started a practice in Albuquerque. He later became a partner. I took a surveying course in civil engineering at the University of New Mexico--the only woman in the class--put on a four-person team instead of the usual three-person team. This discouraged me from engineering. I also studied voice at the University of New Mexico.

I had sung solos at churches, school, weddings and recitals growing up and had always wanted to sing more. I sang the role of Dorabella in UNM’s production of Mozart's Così Fan Tutte in 1953. I am seated in the photograph below from this production. My first son, Glenn, was born in the Spring of 1954.

Several years later, I returned to the University of New Mexico studying part-time for a bachelor of science in mathematics and a minor in physics. I was pregnant with my second son, Robert, when I graduated in 1959. He was born that fall. After all the sporadic course work, I was elected to Phi Kappa Phi and Kappa Mu Epsilon (undergraduate mathematics honor society).

Beginning in 1961, I majored in music at UNM as a voice major, sang in several more operas, gave both junior and senior recitals, and finished nearly all of the courses for a Bachelor of Music degree in voice. I was a member of Sigma Alpha Iota, international music fraternity for women.

In 1964, the newly-appointed University Architect at UNM, Van Dorn Hooker, (BArch., 1947, UT), hired me to "as-built" the entire UNM campus; that is, correct all of the original construction plans by measuring every room of every building. I worked with Burton Smith, an electrical engineering student and formerly in the U. S. Navy, serving on a nuclear submarine. Burton graduated from UNM with a BSEE in 1967 and a ScD from MIT in 1972. He is now a world-famous computer architect. We measured closets, classrooms, offices, toilets, dorm rooms, etc.—and updated the drawings. It took six months. One of the buildings we surveyed housed the vacuum-tube MANIAC computer, donated to the UNM by Los Alamos National Laboratory, which caught my interest.

That fall, I took a course in Fortran computer programming in the electrical engineering department at UNM. It was taught using an IBM 1620 which the university had just acquired. It had only punched cards input and punched cards output with switches for the console. Its punched card output was then printed by the student on an old IBM unit-record interpreter. Shortly thereafter, in 1965, I was hired by a medical research institute as a mathematician and became a software developer. Later that year, my husband and I divorced.

I developed and modified software for many institutions and corporations in the following decades including BDM Corp, Westinghouse, EG&G, Singer Business Machines, SAIC, Martin Marietta, and Los Alamos National Laboratory using a wide range of very small and very large computers.

 

 

In 1969, when my godson and older son’s best friend was killed in an accident, my sons and I moved to Guadalajara Mexico for a year. They attended the American School, and I worked part-time for a consulting company teaching COBOL to run on their new, second-generation, French computer—a Bull Gamma 30. A combination of Spanish, French, and very little English was spoken at the office. It was a great year for all of us.

In 1992, because of a small stroke, I bought an apartment in a high-rise in downtown Albuquerque where my younger son lived then, and I retired. My two sons are wonderful friends, and I feel fulfilled and happy.

Working on the University of Texas Physics Department's history website with Mel Oakes has been tremendously enjoyable. While typing and proofreading, I am finding out what happened to all of those kind, wonderful and quirky folks in the University of Texas Department of Physics in the 1940s and how the department has established a world-class reputation.

Lois turned 86 in 2015; below she celebrates with a cake from her sons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter from Lois Mallory to the chair of the University of Texas Physics Department that was the beginnings of the UT Physics Department History site. The photograph that accompanied it is here: 1946 Sigma Pi Sigma photo.