Have Comments?
Since my sister was two years older than I, I was placed two years behind her in school. My first real school was the Baldwin school in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania starting in the third grade. I was not a particularly outstanding student but I loved math. Our math teacher for all but two of the years that I was at Baldwin was Sarah Ackler. She was strict and demanding. 10th grade was the most exciting because we learned geometry without a textbook. Miss Ackler had us derive all of the theorems from a few axioms just as Euclid did in ancient Greece.  I dedicated my talk at the Baldwin School when I was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award to Miss Ackler.​  

About My Career and Aim for Scientific Accountability

I was 12 years old when the Second World War began. Our lives changed dramatically from that moment on. My father joined the Navy the following year and my sister Babs went off to boarding school that year as well. Our home went from a place full of servants, the site of parties and social events to a cold, barely heated, dark and forbidding mansion. My mother and I were often at odds and my liberation was my bicycle and my freedom to roam the country on it in the afternoons after school. In 1944, following in my sister’s footsteps, I, too, went away to boarding school, Chatham Hall, an idyllic place isolated in the rolling hills of southern Virginia. It was a relief to be away from home and away from my mother, although I missed my two little brothers terribly. I was a good student at Chatham and again, following in my sister’s footsteps, I proceeded to Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts.

I had a wonderful time at Smith, but again I was not much of a student. I did excel in the sciences, doing very well in math and first-year chemistry. I met my nemesis in organic chemistry and nearly flunked. I took my junior year abroad spending it in Paris. That was one of the most wonderful and amazing years of my life. Again I had the freedom of a bicycle and I covered the city on it. It was an awakening for me in art, literature and culture. I spent spring vacation in Italy, had an attack of appendicitis, had my appendix out at the American Hospital in Paris where I was given a bed on the maternity ward which nearly killed my parents when they learned of it. Their belief that I was heading for the low life was confirmed, at least temporarily.

After I graduated from Smith, I spent a year in New York, working at the Sloan Kettering Institute for Cancer Research. Although I didn't realize it at the time, it was there that I found my calling. That year, I met James Grover, a patent attorney in Boston. We were married in May of 1952 and lived for a year in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the Biophysics department. The head of the lab was Bert Vallee, a well-known and respected scientist who encouraged me to continue my education and to get a PhD. At that time, I did not even know what that was.

James and I had two boys before our marriage collapsed after seven years. During our time together, I became more and more frustrated at the prospect of spending my life as an unfulfilled and useless housewife. I learned that Brandeis University was in the next town and I applied there to take courses in the Biology department. I was interviewed by a faculty committee who later told me that they expected me to wash out so they assigned me to take the course in genetics which they thought would finish me. I was so turned on by genetics that I spent most of my waking hours reading and thinking about it. I grew fruit flies in my dining room and was so careful and accurate with the mapping assignment that I think the teaching assistant thought that I had cheated somehow and made up my results. This was my first experience with the notion of scientific accountability.

My studies at Brandeis gave me the confidence that I had needed and I was able to gather my courage and ask for a divorce. Shortly thereafter, I met George Hill who was at that time a resident in surgery at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital. We married as soon as my divorce was finalized. We moved to Bethesda Maryland where George was a clinical associate at the national institutes of health and I was able to complete my research for my PhD. I was extremely fortunate to collaborate with a statistician there who helped me put my ideas into mathematics to explain how the alga, Euglena, lost its green chloroplasts after treatment with ultraviolet light, and subsequently regained them after treatment with visible light. I consider the work that I did with euglena was perhaps the best work that I have done during my scientific career.

Our daughter Sarah was born while we were in Bethesda and our daughter Lana was born after we returned to Boston. We spent three more years in the Boston area, living in Brookline Massachusetts. The first year after our return, I was an instructor in biology at Brandeis. The following two years, I was a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard Medical School in Boston. My research at the medical school was a leap from euglena: I worked on protein synthesis in regenerating rat liver. I actually discovered that the protein, albumin, which is made in the liver was larger before leaving the liver to enter serum. My mentor didn't believe that and I had so little self-confidence that we missed being the discoverers of that phenomenon which is now well accepted.

In 1966, we moved to Colorado. George had a faculty position in the department of surgery at the University of Colorado medical Center and I was a postdoctoral fellow in the department of biophysics which later became biophysics and genetics. Things went well at first, I had two publications in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and a publication in the journal Science. The Denver Post interviewed me as a woman in science just at the beginning of the women's movement. The reporter asked me to read some articles about women in science and when I did so it was a rude awakening. All of my schooling up to graduate school had been single sex. I had never known what it was like to play second fiddle to boys. At Brandeis I had been treated like a princess, so even though there the men outnumbered the women I had never been aware of any discrimination. In fact, the only bump in the road I had experienced up to that time was when I applied for an American Cancer Society Fellowship to work at the Harvard Medical School and was turned down because my interviewer thought that I should be “home taking care of those four children."

After the article appeared about me in the Denver Post I was asked to serve on a university wide committee to investigate the position of women at the medical school. Another assistant professor and I were given access to the personnel action forms in the Dean's office. We discovered that I was the lowest paid assistant professor with a PhD in the medical school and that my colleague was the lowest paid assistant professor with an M.D. in the medical school. But things were worse than that. We discovered that there were 350 men on the full-time faculty in the tenure-track ranks of assistant professor, associate professor and professor, of those 47.7% had tenure. There were 28 women in the tenure-track ranks and of those only six had tenure. There were 16 departments in the medical school and of these, only 12 had any women at all, and seven had only one woman. We also looked at salaries and time in rank and it was clear that the women were grossly underpaid and spent long years without promotions. I was so shocked at these findings that I sent a memo to the Dean. I naïvely believed that the chairmen were unaware of this shocking discrimination and that they would surely make amends as soon as they learned about it.

The executive committee of the faculty which was composed of department chairmen was due to meet the day after we tabulated our results. The very next day I was called in to my chairman’s office and told that my appointment would not be continued, that I would not be promoted and would not receive tenure. (Colorado 1971) After this, there were terrible repercussions. The medical school was up in arms, there was obvious fear that the women were going to take over and revolt and that terrible things going to happen which would all be attributed to me. Things did quiet down to some extent around the medical school and I was given a year and a half to get out. That was a very painful period, I was treated like a pariah, jobs that I had had were taken away from me and the chief of my laboratory treated me thereafter with disdain. He would come into my laboratory bringing recruits for my job and without even looking at me would describe to them the facilities that they would have. As a second ploy, he would come in to ask me how soon I was going to leave.

However, as a result of my memo, some women woke up to the fact that they were being discriminated against and we were able to form a Women's Association which would be able to negotiate with the leaders in the medical school. Although many of the women worked together on this, including women medical students and postdoctoral fellows, the highest-ranking women turned out to be our greatest enemies. Those women were the fortunate ones who had been promoted by their chairmen; they were secure and did not want to have other women rock the boat.

I was effectively fired in May of 1971. We were fortunate in that my husband was offered a job at Washington University Medical School in St. Louis as chief of theDdivision of Surgical Oncology. There would also be a job for me in the Radiology Department in the Cancer Biology Section. We left Colorado, beautiful mountains where I learned to ski, the medical school where I had done some significant work on the diagnosis in utero of several genetic diseases. After we left, the women continued in their battle for equality and filed a class action suit for salary discrimination. I was a member of that class and in the 1980s I received word that my salary was $20,000 short of what it should have been. I was told that I could settle for $2000, otherwise I would have to get my own lawyer to argue for the rest. I took the $2000.

The group that I joined in St. Louis consisted of five men and me. I quickly discerned that the men were polarized. The head of the group was a dictatorial and demanding person who seemed not to believe in academic freedom. His lieutenant so to speak was a colleague who had spent many years with him. The other three scientists were relatively new to St. Louis and were uncomfortable under this type of leadership. It will not be surprising to know that I aligned myself with the three rebels. Nonetheless, things went pretty well until I decided to purchase an incubator with my own grant funds. Our leader ruled that I could not do that, I rebelled and was again summarily dismissed. Here again, this was accomplished by informing me that I would not be eligible for tenure.

We stayed in St. Louis for 3 1/2 years. We love the community and had many friends. My husband had always hoped to be a chairman of surgery at a medical school and the opportunity came to do just that at Marshall UniversityMedical School in Huntington, West Virginia. This was a new medical school that was just getting underway. I was offered a position in the Biochemistry Department which I was happy to accept. The Dean who had hired us was fired before we even arrived. My husband and the new Dean did not see eye to eye on many things. On the other hand, I got along very well in my small department with the faculty of 4.  My only problem was again with the chairman who had a tie clip worn daily in the form of a revolver.  He also found it amusing to make fun of the fact that I was a woman. His comments to me and about me were frequently preceded with the comment "Lanie, since you are a woman...." He seemed to enjoy putting me down, but his jokes had little effect on me. His revenge came when he wrote a letter of "recommendation" for me in which I was damned with faint praise. I also discovered that I had been paid considerably less than 2 other members in my department even though I outranked them and had much better credentials.

When we were in Huntington, we sent our daughters to the same boarding school in southern Virginia that I had attended, Chatham Hall. Our older daughter Sarah graduated from Chatham in 1980. I was asked to deliver the baccalaureate address at graduation. I chose to tell my story as it had occurred up to that time in the form of an allegory. I described the travails of a woman scientist named Hannah Hester which happened to be the name of my great grandmother. Hannah suffered all of the trials and tribulations that I had encountered up to that time. I admonished the graduating young women not to rock the boat unless they were the captain. By this of course I meant don't speak out until you have tenure. I quoted Kipling "it matters not how strait the gate, how charged punishment scroll, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul." I could see from Sarah’s reaction that as I told my tale she began to realize whom it was that I was describing. (Chatham Hall Baccalaureate Address.)

At Marshall, it was my husband this time who had problems. Once the medical school received its provisional accreditation, the Dean called him in and told him that he no longer wanted him to be chairman of surgery. The surgeons in town objected strongly to this demotion, but my husband thought it would be better to move on and that was how we came to New Jersey. Shortly after we left WV, the Dean and the university President were replaced. We were invited by the Dean’s successor to return a couple of years later to make presentations. While we were there, we were told that the Dean during our time had nearly bankrupted the school and had taken money from the Department of Surgery to make up the losses in the other departments, covering his tracks by filing false statements of account to my husband. My husband had suspected that this was the case and this would have been why the Dean had to get rid of him.

Once in NJ, I decided to see what would happen if I went to the EEOC to complain about my underpayment at Marshall and about gender discrimination there in general. The District Director in Pittsburgh ruled for salary discrimination in the amount of $8151 for the last 2 of the 5 years I was at Marshall and allowed that I could file a private law suit to recover the damages. I wanted to get on with my research so I let the matter drop. Interesting to point out, however, that Clarence Thomas was head of the EEOC at that time. I just hoped my suit gave my chairman a sleepless night or two. (EEOC 1981)

My husband became the head of the division of surgical oncology at the New Jersey medical school and I was given the position of Prof. and head of the section of cancer biology in the department of radiology. Things were very good in New Jersey for some time. The first bump in the road came when I was up for tenure about 2 1/2 years after we arrived. By this time there had been a rearrangement of leadership in the department of radiology. The chairman who hired me was a radiation therapist and spoke loudly and often regarding his low opinion of the Dean. As a result, he was demoted to head of the division of radiation therapy and a new chairman was hired. The former chairman believed that my husband was responsible for his losing his position. The voting members of the department with respect to my tenure were the former chairman, a radiation physicist whose laboratory had been usurped to accommodate me (I had no role in that and didn't even know about it). The third voting member was a clinician who didn't even know me. The vote was two against and one abstained. Fortunately, the Dean's office and the new department chairman decided to overrule the vote, my credentials were presented to the faculty committee on appointments and promotions (FCAP) and I was duly granted tenure. Such are the politics in a medical school.

Things were good for some time after that. I was well-funded, I had a busy and productive laboratory, and my research was interesting and rewarding. It came time, however, to renew my federal grant and it failed. I was approaching my 70th birthday and it seemed time to prepare to retire. I didn't feel quite ready, so I offered to work on the projects proposed by my young colleague who would become my enemy. Here then begins my tale as a whistleblower. This is my experience with science and medical cover ups and government incompetence.
Helene Z. Hill, Ph.D.
Copyright 2012: Helene Z Hill. Medical Cover Up. All rights reserved.
HomeMy FamilyMy CareerCommitteesQui TamPublicationsRaw DataEnvoiBlog

Truth even unto its innermost parts
My Career (cf my Curriculum vitae)
Home      My Family      My Career   Committees   Qui Tam   PublishingRaw Data
Envoi   Blog   

Contact Us