Barbara McClintock

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Barbara McClintock

The amazing loner

Barbara McClintock was born in Connecticut (USA) in 1902. From an early age, she described herself as an independentperson with a capacity to be alone.

She studied in New York,where she lived with her uncle and aunt so asto alleviate her family’s economic hardships. She enrolled at Cornell University, despite opposition from her mother, who opposed to her daughters pursuing higher education because it would “ruin their chances of marriage”.

In botany,corn breeding appealed to her. She enjoyed learning how to dye chromosomes to look at them under a microscope and see how they multiplied, how the transmission of certain traits gave rise to different types of corn, and so on. In fact, her research and findings were important for the advancement of genetics in many living beings other than corn.

But Barbara had to change University several times in order to complete her studies. She was often rejected and her workmates failed to inform her about departmental meetings. Indeed, her description of “independent and able to be alone” accompanied her throughout all 90 years of her lifetime.