Evelyn Witkin on Remembering CSHL
  Evelyn Witkin     Biography    
Recorded: 01 Jun 2000

I left in 1955. I did come back several summers. I was teaching the Bacterial Genetics Course. And I came back to do that for, I think probably three summers after that. I guess I was in touch those first few years after I left I was here quite often.

Well, I mean, it’s hard to compare because it’s so totally different! The proliferation of courses—because even now with the graduate school, it’s a very different place from what it was.

There were just the two courses for many years—the Phage course and the Bacterial Genetics course—and the symposium—I mean all this proliferation of small meetings, which is a wonderful feature here now. In my time we didn’t do that.

One thing we did have were staff meetings in—I guess we held them first in Blackford and then we held them in the Bush Building. The staff was quite small and we’d just sit around and one person would talk about their work every week. It was quite a revelation to the people giving the talks because the comments were often very biting, but very useful. With this kind of group it was wonderful! It was quite a small community and especially during the war years. We were rather marooned here because there was not enough gas to drive so nobody left the grounds very much. Especially during the winters, it was a little too in-bred. People got on each other’s nerves a little bit, especially in the dormitory. But that changed when the war was over. Well, there were two institutions, of course. I was on the Carnegie staff and that was quite small. In the Biological Laboratory, there was again a small year round staff but a lot of people came for the summer. I couldn’t guess at the numbers, but certainly, it was known to be small.

Demerec’s laboratory was upstairs in this building. That was I first came to work. This was the library, I think—this room. And the labs were upstairs and I guess everything Carnegie was doing was done here in this building or in the Animal House.

Evelyn Witkin is a leading bacterial geneticist. She earned her Ph.D. in 1947 with Theodosius Dobzhansky at Columbia University for her Drosophila research. Her interests evolved from Drosophila genetics to bacterial genetics, and she spent the summer of 1944 at Cold Spring Harbor, where she isolated a radiation-resistant mutant of E. coli. Witkin remained at the Carnegie Institution Department of Genetics at Cold Spring Harbor until 1955.

In 1971, she was appointed Professor of Biological Sciences at Douglass College, Rutgers University, and was named Barbara McClintock Professor of Genetics in 1979. Witkin moved to the Wakeman Institute at Rutgers University in 1983. Among her many honors are membership in the National Academy of Sciences (1977), Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1980), American Women of Science Award for Outstanding Research, and Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology.