Bartow, Virginia (1896-1980) | University of Illinois Archives

Name: Bartow, Virginia (1896-1980)

Historical Note:

Virginia Bartow (1896-1980) was instructor (1925-31), associate (1931â??39), assistant professor (1939-1955), and associate professor of chemistry (1955â??63) at the University of Illinois (UI). She was a pioneering woman chemist and educator, who taught at UI for almost forty years.

Bartow was born in Rochester, New Hampshire, on December 20, 1896, to Alice (nee Abbott) and Edward Bartow, a chemist and UI professor. She earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Vassar (1918) before teaching at Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland (1918-20). She continued her studies at UI with Professor William A. Noyes, earning a master's degree (1921) and a PhD (1923). Bartow taught chemistry at Rockford College, Illinois (1923-24) and the University of Iowa (1924-25) before she was hired as an instructor at UI in 1925. Bartow's nearly forty-year career at UI was shaped by gender-based discrimination at a time when there were very few women academics. She was "one of the first [women faculty members at UI] to be promoted" in any capacity ("150 for 150"). As a single woman, she was required to live with a university-approved female roommate and initially taught chemistry to home economics students. In 1929, when Chemistry department librarian Marion Sparks died, Bartow took over her classes on the literature and history of chemistry, and the history of chemistry became one of her primary research areas. She became known for her chemical genealogy curriculum in which students "traced the intellectual lineages of Illinois faculty members back to the 1700s," and she published on the topic in 1939 (UIUC Dept. of Chemistry).

Bartow took a personal interest in supporting women students in chemistry and other sciences on the UI campus. She served as advisor for the local section of the women's honorary chemistry society Iota Sigma Pi (1925-1962) as well the organization's national vice president (1940) and chair of its fellowship board (1948-50 and 1962-63). She was also chair of the American Chemical Society's history and chemistry division (1952-54) and chair of the local section of the ACS (1952â??53). In 1976, she was awarded honorary membership to Sigma Delta Epsilon, the society for women graduates in science. Bartow retired from UI in 1963 and died on July 7, 1980, in Douglas, Michigan.


"Bartow, Virginia (1896-1980)," Department of Chemistry (UIUC), accessed May 13, 2020,

"Virginia Bartow," 150 for 150 (UIUC), accessed May 13, 2020,

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