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Oral History Interview of Martha Richmond (SOH-043)
Moakley Archive and Institute
www.suffolk.edu/moakley
archives@suffolk.edu

Oral History Interview of Martha Richmond
Interview Date: November 5th 2018
Interview By: Sabrina Carter
Citation: Richmond, Martha Interviewed by Sabrina Carter, Suffolk University Oral SOH043, November, 2018. Transcript and audio available. Moakley Archive and Institute,
Suffolk University, Boston, MA.
Copyright Information: Copyright © 2018 Suffolk University

Interview Summary
Martha Richmond, a former Suffolk University professor of biochemistry and director of
the environmental studies program, discusses her education, teaching career, and her
experience as a woman in the field of science. Richmond describes the changes in her field
over the course of her career and the evolution of the science program at Suffolk. She
relates her experiences working with colleagues, serving on university committees and
mentoring students. She also discusses her retirement as well as her post-Suffolk work.
The interview ends with Richmond expressing her enduring admiration for the Suffolk
University community and her love of teaching.

Subject Headings
Biochemistry
Environmental sciences
Richmond, Martha
Suffolk University—History
Women in science—United States
Universities and colleges -- Faculty

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Oral History Interview of Martha Richmond (SOH-043)
PROFESSOR REEVE: Today is Monday, November 5th. And this will be an oral history
interview with Prof. Martha Richmond, Chemistry and Environmental studies. Our
interviewer today is Sabrina Carter, history major. Martha, thank you very much--

[00:00:20]
MARTHA RICHMOND: You’re welcome.

PROFESSOR REEVE: --for participating. As we explained, your interview will be made
available to other researchers and will probably be posted online. And Sabrina is going to
be asking you questions that she and Ben developed. If something occurs to me, I’ll try not
to step on your toes. But I may speak, up, too. So, Sabrina, it’s all yours.

SABRINA CARTER: Okay. We know a little bit about your background before you were
a professor when you worked in science. And what led you to become a chemist?

[00:00:52]
MARTHA RICHMOND: Well, I first want to correct just a little, tiny fine point because
it’s actually one of those things that really has to do with my profession. I’m a biochemist
by training. And biochemistry is actually sort of a hybrid between biology and chemistry.
And so, in the days when I was in college, there was no such thing as a biochemistry
major. You sort of had to craft it by picking and choosing from various departments. And I
always love science, but I always liked the idea that you could relate something to living
systems. And so that was the thing that really drew me into it.

I also am very stubborn. And in those days, and sadly, unfortunately, to some extent right
now too, women are still discouraged from going into the so-called STEM fields as though
we lack an innate neuron somewhere that makes it possible for us to be good scientists.
Probably you wouldn’t remember this but there was a president of Harvard, not the past
president but [Lawrence] Summers, who basically said in a public forum a few years ago
that women just didn’t succeed as much because they lacked a certain push or innate skills
or something. It just—they weren’t hardwired to become scientists.
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[00:02:23]
So, for me, I loved the—I liked the beauty of science, which may sound very funny. But
it’s actually a very aesthetic discipline. I liked the idea of mastering something that
explained a lot of phenomena to me. And at that time, I liked working with my hands. I’ve
sort of morphed beyond that in the intervening years. So, all of those things really led into
it. I also was very fortunate as a young woman that I had a couple of friends who were in
science who really encouraged me, kept saying, “You can do this. Go on and do it.” And I
think you need things like that.

So, that’s what sort of kept me pushing my way through graduate school, which as anyone
can tell you, it’s no walk in a park. [Laughter]. Sort of halfway through this you think,
what on earth have I done to myself and why am I doing this because it’s hard.

[00:03:23]
But I’m very, very glad I did it. So, that’s why I’m here right now. I’ve sort of morphed
into other fields since then but we can talk a bit more about that a little later.

SABRINA CARTER: You actually brought up a point I’d really like to elaborate on,
[what] is your experience being educated as a woman in science, and if you think there’s
been any changes over the years.

MARTHA RICHMOND: Yes and no. I think there’s still a lot of mansplaining. I often
wonder, and actually discussed this with some people recently, many, many women have
sort of adopted the “me, too.” And me-too was always pervasive. But the hardest thing for
me was not being taken seriously and having people step up, you know, as I would open
my mouth. And I’ve actually gone to meetings and counted the number of times women’s
questions are answered as frequently as men’s. And surprisingly still, it’s less.

[00:04:42]

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That said, I can look at the younger people at Suffolk today, and there are more women,
and more women who are doing, I think, rather prominent things. So, I think that part has
changed.

In my day, when I first started out, if you were absolutely top tier, you probably were not
going to have any trouble. But most of us are not number one everywhere. And for the
bulk of us, what this meant was you did a postdoctoral fellowship. I did three years of
postdoctoral research. Actually, I think I did four. I have to go back and count. But there
was that. And then there were certain options. One was small college teaching and the
other was becoming sort of a senior, postdoctoral person who was sort of the overseer of
the rest of the research world. Very, very, very few women actually achieved it to the level
of making, becoming a professor at a university level in a high-powered research
institution.

[00:06:04]
And of those women who did, the option of having anything other than a career was often
very, very difficult. So, it was a choice that you made, is this really what I want to do or do
I want another kind of life? So, I think that has changed. Certainly, the younger women at
Suffolk all have managed to broaden that out considerably. But it’s still—there’s a long
way to go.

SABRINA CARTER: What changes do you think need to happen in the field of science
to achieve that?

MARTHA RICHMOND: I think more women are encouraging each other to go into
science. That’s a really good question. I really think it’s a kind of a peer type of thing.
There is certainly a need to get more people into STEM fields. But I think it comes from
seeing other people who have succeeded in doing it. And then little by little by little there
is more of a group that just sort of goes into this. That’s the best answer I can give you. I
honestly--

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SABRINA CARTER: That’s a very good answer. Sort of shifting back to your career,
what made you decide to work at Suffolk?

[00:07:28]
MARTHA RICHMOND: At the time I had two job offers. I had taught for two years at
UMASS Boston. And they were offering me, yet again, a visiting assistant professor
position there. It was when the harbor campus was relatively new and the parking garages
weren’t caving in as they have been recently. And truthfully, I enjoyed the work. But I had
a choice between that or coming to a school where I knew the classes would be smaller, I
would have more intimate contact with students. It was a tenure-track position. And I felt
that there was more possibility for growth here. I also immensely liked the person who
interviewed me for the job, when I was interviewed for this job. It was just a very
comfortable situation between the two of us.

[00:08:25]
So, that was—it wasn’t an instantaneous decision. I took about a week or so to mull these
things over. But I’m awfully glad I did what I did.

PATRICIA REEVE: May I interrupt for one, quick question?

SABRINA CARTER: Yes, of course.

PATRICIA REEVE: Who was it that interviewed you, do you remember?

MARTHA RICHMOND: I’m sorry?

PROFESSOR: Do you recall who interviewed you?

MARTHA RICHMOND: Maria, then Bonaventura. She then later became Miliora. And
she just, we just really clicked. It was easy to talk with her. Can I go on and tell this funny
story? Because they were looking at me because as a biochemist, I was really—was sort of
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between two departments. And they were considering me as being sort of a branch person
between the two departments.

[00:09:13]
And I could have taught genetics, which is not too far from some of the work I had done.
But then the subject came up of teaching immunology. And to this day I don't know how
people—I have a close friend who’s an immunologist who started out as a biochemist. And
I just don’t know how he does it. It’s a very complex thing to learn from scratch, and
particular to set up a course. And so, Bea [Snow] brought up the subject of well, and of
course, one of the courses you teach is immunology. And I just said, “I don’t think I can do
that.” [Laughter] I thought, “Oh, Martha, that’s it. It’s all over.”

[Laughter]

[00:09:54]
But I just, I didn’t think I could. It’s very difficult. And this wasn’t like I had two years of
prep time. I would have had to have been getting this course up and going. And it was just
daunting. And so, at that particular point I thought, okay, let’s just see where this goes.
And so little by little it sort of evolved into something about think how you could fit into—
it was then just the chemistry department. It was not chemistry and biochemistry. And I
just, I felt like, okay, this would be a much better arrangement.

What I did not know at the time, although Maria told me this later was that she went home
and she looked at her husband and she said, “I want her.” And no one never said no to her,
if you knew here very well.

So, I had a lot of support. I think that was very, very important to me. And I took a $500
pay cut to come here, which is—oh, I know, and doesn’t that sound so trite now, you
know, so little. But pay scales in those days were really very low.

SABRINA CARTER: What do you recall about your first day at Suffolk?
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[00:11:11]
MARTHA RICHMOND: My first days, plural, or day, singular?

SABRINA CARTER: Just when you first started out.

MARTHA RICHMOND: That’s a really good question. There are a number of things.
And I’m sort of pulling a lot of things together. In those days the building, I can’t even
remember the name of the building, the Archer building was the main building. The
building next door had just opened that fall. And we had no access to the Donahue
Building. So, it was old. It was very plain. I remember that. We had almost no audiovisual
things. So, even if I wanted to show slides, it was very difficult because we had almost
nothing, never mind PowerPoints. PowerPoints were the thing of the future. We had
nothing in the way of getting things together.

[00:12:18]
So, basically, in those days you taught a small class. The rooms, bluntly put, were really
pretty shabby. The labs were pretty outdated. And that made things difficult. On the other
hand, it was delightful you had a small class. And I could talk with students. There’s
something about having a very large class. And you look out over a sea of people. And
maybe you can see one or two people and maybe have a sense of whether they’re
understanding. But if you have a class of anywhere from let’s say from five to 25 students
and you say something and everyone looks like this? [Richmond tilts head]

[Laughter]

You think, well, I guess that one didn’t work. And then you can go back. But then you can
also feel comfortable saying, “You know, I don’t think I’m still reaching you or you,” and
really start to draw people out about what isn’t working. And so, I felt that I was more
effective as a teacher. And that was, to me, really delightful.

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[00:13:37]
I think you always discover, and this is particularly true with new teachers, because we’ve
always just come out of graduate school and postdoctoral fellowships, we’ve had to talk to
the people up there not to the people who are still in the learning process. And I think for
many of us those first few classes we teach, we teach slightly over the heads of the
students we’re teaching. And we have to learn to tone it down. And that’s really kind of an
interesting educational experience in and of itself.

But I felt, just from the beginning, that I had a good rapport with the students I was
teaching and that was just fun. I really loved that and did all of my time here.

SABRINA CARTER: When did the lab facilities start to change?

[00:14:30]
MARTHA RICHMOND: What has changed?

SABRINA CARTER: When did the labs like start updating, getting better?

MARTHA RICHMOND: [Laughter]

SABRINA CARTER: Because we have quite few of them.

MARTHA RICHMOND: [Laughter] Well, do you want the honest answer?

SABRINA CARTER: Yeah, I do. I’m not in the science department. I don't know if they
are good now. But we have a new building, so I hope they are.

[00:14:51]
MARTHA RICHMOND: Well, the now, not Somerset, but I can’t remember the name of
the building now that it has the name of somebody, is really the first time. The labs, there
were two or three labs that did evolve over a period of time. And I really am speaking only
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about my own department. The first renovation took place in the 1980s. And prior to that
time, even though we offered summer courses, there was not a/c in any of the Archer
Building. And you can imagine what a heat bath that was. It was very, very difficult.

I used to have trouble, too, because when you teach labs there are just certain minimum
things you need to wear. Because if you don’t, you’re not protected. And when people
would come to some of these labs in the summer and I’d think, “Oh, I don’t think much of
you is covered.” [Laughter] I never quite knew what to do. You know, I’d run around
getting a lab coat or an apron or something.

[00:16:01]
But I also felt, you know, it was so absolutely miserable that it was very hard to come into
those labs actually—the heat was just awful. Now, they did do renovations about that.
They did put in a so-called a/c unit. But the labs themselves really were not particularly
well renovated. And the first in my department renovations of any substance came when
there was some redoing of what was the biochemistry lab facility. And then the organic
chemistry labs were redone. And that was in part--I was, at the time, chair. And I kept
making the point and brought someone in, actually showed him, we had benches that were
basically parallel to the fume hoods.

And organic chemistry works with a fair number of solvents that, in theory, could be
volatile and could cause problems. And because of the layout of these benches, if there had
been any problem, people in the interior part would not have been able to get out of the lab
quickly enough. And they were questioning why we couldn’t teach far more students in the
lab. And I said, “You know, that’s unconscionable. You cannot do that.”

[00:17:26]
And there was one moment where I could tell somebody from the dean’s office was
pressuring someone who was teaching organic chemistry. And I was next door. And he
described me, looking like smoke was pouring out of my ears. I sort of marched out and

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said, “Wait. I have to show you this.” And I sort of dragged him down the hall and showed
him. And it became clear that something had to be done.

So those labs were renovated. And the layout was much nicer but it was theoretically a
two-stage renovation. And stage two didn’t take place because of the other building that
was in the works.

So, when I became department chair, I really am a trouble maker, I discovered these photos
from the labs, which were the general chemistry labs taken before anyone in this room was
born, way before some people in this room were born.

[00:18:29]
And I made sure that certain people saw these and I said, “Look. Look at what we have
now. Look at these photos and tell me how much difference do you see?” And it was
disgraceful. And so, it sort of moved this whole process along of, wait a minute, we have
to do something to update this. And so, little by little the decision was made that the
building on Somerset would hold science labs. That it was going to be really dedicated in
part to developing the science labs. And that is really the major change that has taken
place.

The other thing, though, I would just simply like to add because I think it’s an important
note to make. My particular areas of interest in research were such that I didn’t really need
a lot of laboratory space. But for some of the basic chemistry research, they do need
dedicated space. And even in these new buildings, because we were limited in terms of the
footprint we could have in putting up the building, some of that space is really not
adequately available. People are really falling all over each other, even now.

[00:19:53]
So there has been, I think, a tremendous, tremendous improvement but we’re sort of in this
quasi--I say we, I’m no longer an active faculty member but I still feel engaged in the
University--in this quasi-strange position of saying, yes, research is very important. Good
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faculty members should be doing research and should be able to do research that’s
publishable. And at the same time, the facilities are not quite what they should be in some
cases. There just is a need for more space, more room. And it’s difficult.

So, I think Suffolk has done a lot for the sciences over the years. And I’m delighted to see
that. I think perhaps that’s the best way to leave it right now. I’ve qualified what I’ve said.

SABRINA CARTER: How did the creation of the Environmental Studies program come
about?

[00:21:02]
MARTHA RICHMOND: Wow. Well, I have this other background. And this is
something I actually—I have Maria Miliora, who was then Maria Bonaventure to thank
for. Way back when, I must have been at Suffolk maybe eight or ten years. She decided it
would be very nice to offer a course in toxicology, which is—the title is always a study of
poisons. But toxicology is really what do we do or how does the environment handle the
vast numbers of things which are not normal metabolites. We take in, I’d say, lots and lots
of things, if it’s drugs, it’s food additives, all sorts of things, even normal things in our diet
that are not things that we really can metabolize. And so, we have to have a way of
handling these things.

And this has become a very, very important field; it sort of crosses boundaries. A lot of this
has to do with environmental work. So, she asked me if I would develop and teach this
course. And I just got really hooked on this because I saw it as something that not only
involved biochemistry but it also sort of involved a larger public. And it involved doing
something for the larger public. And so, it ended up sort of pushing me in a way of
thinking, okay, I had to know more about it.

[00:22:37]
And Colling, in the bio department, who knew some people at the Harvard School of
Public Health said, “Hey, you know, why don’t you just take a sabbatical, go there, study
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public health and see what you can do with it?” So, I got a degree in public health,
specializing in occupational, environmental health, which included toxicology. Absolutely
loved it. I felt like I died and gone to academic heaven. It was just an amazing experience.
And then, did some consulting work in environmental health, and then brought a lot of that
back here. But I sort of looked more at the broader issues of the environment. And that
was, that sort of brought in the whole subject of environmental studies.

[00:23:26]
At the time the dean was very interested in doing something. He thought, originally, about
environmental policy, which is a piece of it. But I’m not a policy person. And there was a
group of us who were meeting about a bunch of things. And so, the subject came up, well,
why don’t we make this environmental studies, because that really can cover a lot. So, it
can cover the humanities. It can cover policy and also can cover the more science-focused
aspects of this.

[00:23:56]
And the other thing that was really appealing to me about this was that I know a lot of
people who like science. But the idea of being a hard core, four-year science major, taking
one, two, three, four semesters of calculus and all sorts of other things is really daunting.
But they’d like to get a background in the science. And I thought, wow, this is a way of
really doing that so that you’re conversant with science but that’s not your specialty.

So, that was sort of how it all started. And I directed it seven, eight, nine, ten—okay, I
directed it, through my first year as department chair of the chem and biochem department,
not necessarily by choice. But at the time there was no one else to do it.

[00:25:09]
John Berg who then became the director, after he stepped down as chair of government, he
took up the role of directing the program. And I stayed in the environmental science end of
that for quite a while, really until my retirement. And that did remain as a slightly different

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major. Now, that’s changed dramatically since I have left, I think in many exciting ways.
But that was sort of how I got into it initially.

And I was very happy about this because I think that environmental work is really critical.
And I think it’s a wonderful way of drawing people into science policy and even
humanities field. There’s a lot of environmental history, a lot of environmental humanities
work that I really hope Suffolk can develop a lot more because it’s, you know, wonderful,
wonderful writers, historians, so on that could really develop this whole field, I think, very
expansively.

SABRINA CARTER: You mentioned that the program had changed. What’s different
about it now?

[00:26:30]
MARTHA RICHMOND: The environmental program?

SABRINA CARTER: Yes.

MARTHA RICHMOND: Well, I think that it’s cutting across disciplines. I think it’s
become something where they’re also including the business school, and becoming more
international. I don't know all of the specifics about it but I think there’s a lot more urban
studies that’s become incorporated into this. I think there’s a lot of institutional support to
expand it. I think this probably started, frankly, when Margaret McKenna came here and
Maria Toyoda came. But I think it’s gone beyond that now. And obviously, Margaret’s no
longer here. And I think what it does is it gives Suffolk a niche that will be unique. You
know, every once in a while, you see this sort of, all institutions decide to have a major of
law. And, then, you know, you watch them cropping up with all sorts of colleges and
universities.

[00:27:44]

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I think that there was a lot of thinking about what could be done to make this really
uniquely Suffolk. And we have the advantage of having this culmination of law, science,
or law, business and liberal arts that is kind of unique. And I think this really offers a lot of
opportunities. And, truthfully, I also think there’s very strong institutional support right
now. Institutional support goes a long way.

SABRINA CARTER: How did Suffolk becoming international and adding dorms change
both the University and the science program, specifically?

MARTHA RICHMOND: International, how has it become--?

SABRINA CARTER: How has the University expanding into an international school
change the University and the science program, specifically?

[00:28:37]
MARTHA RICHMOND: Wow. You know, this is an interesting thing to answer. When I
first started at Suffolk, it was a commuter school.

SABRINA CARTER: Right.

MARTHA RICHMOND: And students came from inside the 495 Belt. They usually
commuted to school. Occasionally you would have a student who lived in some sort of
facility in Boston. But the vast majority of them commuted from home, or they were older
and they worked and they had a residence here. That was another situation. There were
international students and the bulk of these international students came from, I’d say West
Africa. That was the largest bulk. I had lots and lots of Nigerian students. I honestly do not
know what living arrangements they made. They found arrangements here. Someone
helped them find the arrangements.

[00:29:45]

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We had some phenomenal students in those days. I remember one, particular student who
did not return to Nigeria but has a degree in pharmacy and now has a pharmacy practice in
Savannah, Georgia, of all places. Amazing, amazing person. But that was, those were
almost all of the international students I ever saw. Now, I’m sure there were others. But
that was the large bulk of students that we got.

What I think really changed was when a decision was made to have dorms. And that was
one that took a long, long time. And the dorm situation, as you know, is not, still, totally
ideal. What is it, two years that you could live in a dorm and then you’ve got to out and
find somewhere else to live?

SABRINA CARTER: One year.

[00:30:40]
MARTHA RICHMOND: One year.

SABRINA CARTER: Yeah.

MARTHA RICHMOND: One year. Wow.

SABRINA CARTER: Then they do the lottery system.

MARTHA RICHMOND: Well, it’s difficult. And, you know, I’m not happy. I read too
many stories about student apartments that are really chilling. So, it really troubles me.
And, of course, what’s happened is that a lot of students now come from all over the
country. So, that part has changed. But they also come from all over the world. So, we’ve
had a lot of recruitment in China. There are a lot of Chinese students who come. We have a
lot of Middle Eastern students coming.

[00:31:19]

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Students, the sort of back and forth—well, the Madrid campus doesn’t really bring students
from Madrid, though does it? We did do that for a little while and then that sort of
disappeared. There was another school that we did bring in some students who lived in
Madrid. But we’ve brought in students, brought in South American students. We bring in
students from all over the world. In part that is because there is a place they can
theoretically live here.

Now, what you’re pointing out is actually a little scary because that means after year one,
they have to find other arrangements. I know the placement services are much better now.
Back in the days that I started it was sort of, we already admitted—figure it out. There
wasn’t much in the way of service about looking for places to stay.

[00:32:17]
But I think, the wonderful thing to me is that, part of what I think college should be is
meeting people from other worlds, you know, they’re not exactly like you—an
understanding, you know, what you have in common, what you don’t have in common,
kind of appreciating all of that. So, I think that has changed just the outlook of student in
ways that I didn’t see when I first started to teach. Students were pretty uniform when I
first started to teach.

And if you—I mean I remember, and I’m not going to identify persuasions, but I was
teaching a lab and I was just sort of listening to this conversation. This poor guy saying, “Is
there anyone here like me, who thinks the way I do about something?” And I’m thinking,
oh, this poor guy. [Laughter] And I know he just felt completely isolated. He was the
sweetest guy. And, you know, you’re sort of like wallpaper. You pretend you haven’t
heard a word. So, you just go on doing whatever it was you were doing. But it was just, I
thought, wow, that’s so tough.

[00:33:28]
And I mean I just remember my own college and graduate school, the variances were such,
where I met people from all over. I met this man at the School of Public Health who was
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Oral History Interview of Martha Richmond (SOH-043)
from Madagascar. And I never would have expected to meet someone from Madagascar.
And I learned a lot about the culture that I never would have expected to learn. And it’s
just wonderful when you have those experiences. And I think that Suffolk is doing that
now. Really contributes in ways you can’t even measure, right at the time, to your overall
education. And you’ll take it with you. So, that’s how I think that has changed. [Laughter]

SABRINA CARTER: That’s a good answer. Who at Suffolk do you think had the most
profound impact on you?

MARTHA RICHMOND: Oh, boy. I looked at that question and I thought, how am I
going to answer this one? I’ll tell you why. Okay. Initially when I first came, I would have
to say Maria, as she was then, Maria Bonaventura, who then became Maria Miliora. She
had tremendous faith in me. And when I would feel self-doubt she would just say, “Oh, get
over it. You can do it.” And so, I did.

[00:34:50]
And she really jumped to my defense in one, particular case. And it was an issue I don’t
want to get into particularly. But it was something where I was feeling a lot self-doubt.
And she was just furious about a particular thing. And I thought, my goodness, I mean,
yes, this is incredible. But that was how she, you know, when she believed in somebody
she really just helped tremendously.

She was also a very important person at that time. And she was head of the Committee on
the Status of Women, which was one of the first committees in the University to ever look
at, are women treated on a par with men? Guess what the answer to that one is. But, you
know, she was a very vocal person about that. She was very involved in the development
of the Faculty Life Committee, which was a very important committee for me, as a
younger faculty member because it touched on a host of different issues about what is it
like for faculty members here. And she did do many things for the University.

[00:36:13]
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I was actually rather sad that when she died a year ago, that very little was said about it.
There was no sort of—I felt that there should have been a much stronger, all-college
announcement that came out, because she gave so much to the University as a young
woman, younger woman.

Another person in those days who, just because of two people, because of their sheer
decency, were Bill Good, who was a faculty member in my department. Who was just one
of these uncommonly kind, decent people, very supportive. He was chair for quite a while
and just really listened to the needs of people in the department and I thought this was
wonderful.

[00:37:03]
And another was a colleague in the department, Steve Patterson, who died the fall that I
became chair. And becoming a chair was not a job I sought. You can relate to that.
[Looking at Professor Reeve] [Laughter] It’s— it’s sort of like being the ham in the ham
sandwich. You’re between the two pieces of bread and you’re not quite sure where to go.
But I had taken it in part because Steve was quite ill and he really just could not continue.
And I could do it. I mean that wasn’t a question I had. It was just I had other interests.

But Steve was, again, a very kind, decent person. And he and I, there were issues at times
where our names would come for promotion or something like that. And this is long
enough ago that I think I can comfortably say that this was a case where maleness was
more important that femaleness. And there were a couple of potentially unpleasant things.
And Steve was always so absolutely decent. He was just decent with every one he worked
with.

[00:38:33]
One of the things I remember, because I took over—you know, I moved eventually into his
office after I became chair was that he had this supply of umbrellas. Now, that sounds
really funny. But when it was raining, he would just give one to a student because the
student might need an umbrella and would be soaking wet. Now, that’s a tiny thing. But he
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Oral History Interview of Martha Richmond (SOH-043)
did this in other ways. “You need a book. Here, take this.” One of my colleagues who was
from Rhode Island, and they froze the bank accounts there at some particular point, and
was absolutely desperate, he just lent him some money. He said, “I know you’ll repay
when you can,” which of course happened. But that was the kind of person he was.

So, those were some of the immediate people. When I spent a lot of time working on
faculty life, I loved a lot of the people worked with on that committee. It would be hard to
go back and start naming people one by one. But it was a fun group to work with because
we always had a purpose.

[00:39:40]
And at one point I remember we made this big point, I know this is a while back, but it had
to do with making a statement about organizations investing in companies in South Africa
during Apartheid days. And we made a very strong statement that Suffolk really needed to
withdraw from some of those kinds of things because otherwise we were supporting
apartheid. So, we were a pretty strong, vocal, political group about things like that. And I
loved that.

So, that’s past. More recently, the person who has been really the most influential person
in my life at Suffolk is my now husband, John Berg, who I’ve worked with. I started
working on things well before step two of our lives took place. And maybe that’s part of
why we were drawn to each other. He’s extraordinarily kind, good person, has just opened
my life in many ways. You know, we all go through these moments of self-doubt. If you
haven’t, you’re in big trouble because you’re probably not a very nice person.

[00:41:09]
But truth is that having somebody who just says, “Well, you know, think of it this way, or
look at this way,” and who opens up my life. I’m a scientist but I like to think of all sorts of
other things, too. And, you know, that has those visions within an academic institution, just
is huge. It’s huge. And, yes, that’s been a very, very important part of my life and will
continue to be. So.
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Oral History Interview of Martha Richmond (SOH-043)

SABRINA CARTER: What do you consider to be your most important contribution to
the University?

MARTHA RICHMOND: Wow. I would honestly hope it’s the students that I’ve helped
the most. Programs are programs and that’s fun. I’m glad I was a troublemaker about the
science buildings. But I’ll tell this one, little story because it really captures something of
what I was so excited about. A few years back I was teaching some gen-chem labs and I
had a student in the lab, lovely, sweet person. She worked so hard. She very methodically
did everything and she was so careful. And it always took her a long time to finish.

[00:42:46]
And often, after that lab she’d come and sit in my office and we’d go over things and I
would help her think through problems and questions. And she was not the strongest
science student I ever taught but she liked science. And I knew that she did. But I think she
and I both sensed that this was probably not the thing that was going to ultimately be her
career.

She was also a caretaker for a relative and had a lot of compassion. And because of her
background, she’s multilingual. And so I said, “Well, have you just thought of maybe
taking a few more science courses to just learn what you want to do but thinking of
something where you work with people a lot more?” And so, she ended up majoring in
sociology but having a science background. And she’s been able to take those two talents
and use them. She was working for a while as an intern or something of the sort at Mass
General, where she could have those two. And it was like her world opened up. And to me
that was amazing. That was just so much fun to watch that.

[00:44:01]
And there have been other people, the Nigerian I referred to who was living in Savanna.
Hilary Uquan was just an amazing person. And it was just so much fun watching him
blossom. And that’s many years ago. But just, you know, I could go through a handful of
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Oral History Interview of Martha Richmond (SOH-043)
people like that. And when I see that, that’s to me been a real reward, what I feel like I’ve
contributed.

Yes, I’ve been a troublemaker about the labs. Yes, in Faculty Life we made a big fuss
about a lot of things. And some things did change. And starting programs is always
rewarding, particularly when they move and things go okay.

[00:44:44]
But I came here because, and stayed because I really liked the students. I really—Suffolk
students are unique. They run the spectrum. I mean we all know the person who’s in the
class and people who are really struggling. They don’t take things for granted, necessarily.
They work very hard. And I rarely, rarely have seen a student here who walks in as sort of
says, “I’m really important and I’m entitled.” I mean there’s a real sort of decency about
our students. And that, to me, has been the thing that I came here and I saw and I just
decided I would stay.

So—and arrogantly, if I have the right to be arrogant, I had other job offers. But that
wasn’t—I knew this was what I wanted to do.

SABRINA CARTER: What work did you do with the Faculty Life Committee?

MARTHA RICHMOND: What work?

SABRINA CARTER: Yeah.

[00:45:55]
MARTHA RICHMOND: Well, we spent a lot of time on salary and benefits, which is—
we never—you know, that was really problematic. And it was difficult for a lot of us. We
spent a lot of work, working on that. But also, looking at other aspects of working
conditions. And also, to me, one of the things I most enjoyed, and I realize this is a while
back, was the Apartheid issue. It was making, you know, really getting a group of people
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Oral History Interview of Martha Richmond (SOH-043)
together and saying, “Okay, we have to do something about this. And we have to make a
stand about this.”

And I am very proud of that particularly. We’ve always been a group that has advocated
for the faculty as a whole but also for individual faculty members. And there have been
situations where people could run into problems. And we try to be helpful and sort of work
through all of that.

[00:47:03]
SABRINA CARTER: Does Faculty Life still exist?

PROFESSOR REEVE: It does to the staff. I think since the faculty senate has come in
Faculty Life has sort of died.

MARTHA RICHMOND: Yeah, that was my sense.

PROFESSOR REEVE: I don't know even who’s serving on it, I’m embarrassed to say.

MARTHA RICHMOND: Well, we were also one of the groups that kept pushing for the
senate.

PROFESSOR REEVE: Yeah.

MARTHA RICHMOND: And, you know, all things considered, I’m glad that’s there.

SABRINA CARTER: What were your reasons for retiring?

[00:47:35]
MARTHA RICHMOND: Well, it was one February and I found myself standing in the
cold. My feet were frozen to lumps of ice. I was holding a picket because in the fifth of
five years, I had seen president, acting president, new president, new president, and new
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Oral History Interview of Martha Richmond (SOH-043)
president. I had been chair through four of those five years. And every time something
came along and I thought, okay, now we can do some things to move some things along.
You know, there can be some stability. There is going to be something that is going to
keep things going.” The door revolved yet again.

And I just said. I’m not young. I can do other things. I will have more time. I have some
research interests that I’ve been pursuing and have published a couple of things, which I
was finding hard to do when I was here. And that was really, really the major reason I
decided I could do this at that point.

[00:48:43]
I do think that as educators we have been forced more into a very codified system. You
know, that syllabus, that thick—you know, the syllabus in your course, it’s about that
thick, right?

SABRINA CARTER: Yes.

MARTHA RICHMOND: And where do you get to the subject of the lectures in that
syllabus?

SABRINA CARTER: Usually on the calendar.

MARTHA RICHMOND: Page 10, right?

SABRINA CARTER: Yeah.

[00:49:10]
MARTHA RICHMOND: After you find it, you’re going to have a breakdown. All of the
things you have to do to withdraw, when you have to do this, the grades. And I’m not
laughing at that. I think some of that’s important information. But what I began to feel was
that we had gone from—there were just so many rules that I began to feel, wait a minute.
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Oral History Interview of Martha Richmond (SOH-043)
Maybe this is a time I don’t have to do this. Now, would I like to teach a course? I might
consider just a course. But when it became three or when I was department chair and I had
to flip through all these things—bet you know about that one. It can be pretty difficult.
And I just thought, I can do other things. And I am.

You know, I miss—and there are some really wonderful people. I really wish I saw more
frequently. That part I miss. I miss some of the daily contact with students that I had. But I
am doing other things where I have contacts like that. And so, I still, I will always be part
of this world. It’s not going away because I happened to have retired.

SABRINA CARTER: What research have you done since retiring?

[00:50:33]
MARTHA RICHMOND: Well, I’ve been involved for quite a while on lead research.
And about a year or so after my retirement I was part of a group that published a list of,
sort of developed and published a set of modules dealing with lead in the environment—
which was a program designed to teach about lead toxicity to people more in the social
sciences. And I have a research project I’m mulling around right now.

But in the meantime, this ironic, I was asked—and then it turned out that what I developed
turned out to be so much more. I developed a paper on glyphosate, which is the technical
name for Round Up, herbicide. And it’s a very potent topic. This is the thing. The
International Agency for Research on Cancer identified it as a so-called, probable
carcinogen, which is a risk identification. It’s a hazard identification. It’s not a risk
assessment. And that’s very important distinction.

[00:51:46]
But what has happened is that it’s become pretty ubiquitous in the environment. And over
a period of time, more and more cases, and a particularly fairly rare form of cancer have
shown up that seemed to be tied in with exposure to this. The chemical companies that

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Oral History Interview of Martha Richmond (SOH-043)
produce this, needless to say, do not like any of this. And so, there’s been a lot of
controversy, and in some cases I would say prestidigitation involved with dealing with this.

But I put together this paper and there was a piece in that, that deals with environmental
justice primarily focused on farm workers—because these are people who are exposed to
this, often migratory workers, often people who are undocumented. And so, the body of
knowledge about what may be happening with those people is very, very sparse. And one
of the points I really wanted to make is until we know more about this, we may have this
entire cohort of people who are developing all sorts of serious illnesses and we don’t even
know how to document that.

[00:52:57]
So, I worked with two people. I didn’t work with them developing the paper. But when I
finished this what was supposed to be a shorter manuscript and became a full-length paper,
I sent it off to three people, two at Northeastern whom I knew were very involved in
environmental justice issues, and a third who directs the Farm Workers Union, a Farm
Workers Union in Apopka, Florida—and got comments back from them. And the paper
has now been published both online and, more recently, in a hard-copy version in a
journal.

And so, I’m now looking into how I might extend that to other pesticides where there have
been these similar kinds of things and where there is honestly not a lot knowledge. But I
think they are really important topics. So, I met with a person who handles publications
through Springer Publishing Company and I’m hoping to get something together as a
proposal and send that in pretty soon. So, I’ve been busy.

[00:54:03]
I’m also doing a little bit of tutoring on the side at Roxbury Community College, which
I’m enjoying immensely.

PROFESSOR REEVE: What a great idea.
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MARTHA RICHMOND: It’s a very interesting place to be. Some of the students are
very much like our students. But there’s also a cultural milieu that’s somewhat different.
And I’m enjoying it. It’s very hard work. You’d be amazed. It’s a lot harder than teaching
a class because you have to think through what is challenging to somebody. And you’re
working one-on-one. And there are days I come home and I’m like this, [Laughter], at the
end of the day. So, yes, I have been busy.

[00:54:50]
But that’s what retirement should be, I think. I don’t think you can work hard your life and
then just say, eh. [Laughter] It doesn’t work that way.

SABRINA CARTER: Right. How has the advancement of technology changed science
during your career?

MARTHA RICHMOND: How has technology changed?

SABRINA CARTER: Yeah. How has the introduction of technology changed science
during your career?

MARTHA RICHMOND: Oh, wow. Well, computers have just radically changed
everything. Radically changed—this has nothing to do specifically with this, but I found
this so interesting, if you’ll bear with me with this story.

SABRINA CARTER: Of course.

[00:55:29]
MARTHA RICHMOND: We have a dog who is a rescue dog. So, we got her when she
was maybe four years old. And she developed mammary tumors. And she has had all but
two removed. As the vet pointed out, she can’t see her chest. She doesn’t worry the way
people would, which is an interesting way of thinking about it. But, you know, they had—
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Oral History Interview of Martha Richmond (SOH-043)
they were taken out and they were biopsied. And most of the biopsies were negative but
there were a couple of tumors under her skin that looked like they could have some issues.

So, the place where she was treated wanted to send these out for, it’s a genetic test that
would identify the likelihood of recurrence. And this is something I know all sorts of
things about. And I just looked at this and I thought, you can do this, this kind of thing
with almost no tissue. You can do this kind of thing. You know, within the world of
biochemistry, you can take this much of something and you can find volumes of
knowledge about that.

[00:56:46]
And here is the same thing with this tumor. They are just going to take out the tiniest, little
fragment. And based on that, be able to say, what is the prognosis of this? So, all of that
has changed the world of science, the whole, you know, the genome project. My latest
thing, I get very excited about is the microbiome what we’ve learned, yes, that we’re inside
and out, were just bacteria. You know, and what does that tell us about our health. And
what do we know, what can we do address these things?

If you have certain diseases in your family, you can now find out, is that genetic? Is it just
circumstance? All of that has been amazing. And the equipment we have, the scientific
equipment you can get, the things that used to just be huge are now little, tiny units. So, it’s
just in so many ways it has changed. And we all use computers, big ones, little ones, in
between.

SABRINA CARTER: What direction would you like to see the Environmental Studies
program go in the future?

[00:58:06]
MARTHA RICHMOND: I think it’s doing fine. I mean I’m pleased with what I’ve heard
and I think--

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Oral History Interview of Martha Richmond (SOH-043)
SABRINA CARTER: Did you have any involvement with the transition of directors?

MARTHA RICHMOND: Small things. Small things. I didn’t have a huge amount of
involvement.

SABRINA CARTER: What was your career path like before you began teaching?

MARTHA RICHMOND: Well, I went to graduate school and then I spent, it was four
years, the postdoctoral research. I did a year at Harvard. That was a very turbulent year.
This was sort of the tail end of the Vietnam War. And no one—I spent, I’d say, probably
50 percent of my time there like this, writing letters and doing things.

[00:59:13]
And then I spent three years in a position that was affiliated with Tufts. But it was actually
at the Huntington Avenue, Boston VA Hospital. And that had its set of interesting issues,
too. And so, I published a lot. You know, and I gave talks and things like that. And that
was very nice. And this was one of the reasons that it just didn’t appeal to me to continue
doing this. What you learn is that you learn a lot about a little. It gets more and more and
more, you know, more focused in. And I thought, that’s fine. I’m sure that somebody else
is happy doing that. But it wasn’t what I wanted to do.

Obviously, I don’t have trouble keeping quiet. I like people. I like working with people.
And it was just a lot more fun for me to be working with students and teaching. So, my
early career path, yes, was very research oriented, vey laboratory oriented.

[01:00:26]
And labs have their own culture. I mean I had a lot of close friends I worked with in labs.
And we, you know, went through a lot of times together. But it’s a different culture and it
wasn’t one I just really wanted to spend the rest of my life in.

SABRINA CARTER: What advice would you give to students studying science now?
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MARTHA RICHMOND: Consider your options and consider the multiple ways you can
use it.

SABRINA CARTER: If you could go back and have any career, would you change it?

MARTHA RICHMOND: No. I mean, as I said, as an undergraduate in college, I didn’t
have an option. There was no such thing as biochemistry major. So, I had to sort of pick
and choose and hunt to get it. I worked for a year after I graduated from college.

[01:01:17]
I was kind of young when I graduated from college. And so, I just figured, well, what the
heck. I didn’t have to do something beyond that. And this was one of those cases where I
learned, number one, there’s a lot of misogyny because there were a lot of women who had
these lower-level jobs. And that was sort of, they were looked down on. Number two, there
was a whole hierarchical thing. And I thought, well, this doesn’t make any sense why do I
want to do that. And with the encouragement of some friends I went on to graduate school.

But I think, when you think about it, consider, that what you choose to do at 25 may not be
what you do for the rest of your life. And think about how you can create something where
you have different options.

The other thing I guess I feel very strongly about, and this sounds really whacked out but I
told both of my daughters this, “You know, you would be better off emptying bedpans and
taking care of people where you feel like you’re helping somebody, than sitting behind a
desk and pushing papers and feeling like you’re doing nothing but pushing papers—and
that you’re not really making a difference in anyone’s life.”

[01:02:43]
I think contributing to other people’s lives is really critical. And I think, I hope they’ve
adhered to this. I think what they’re doing—one’s an epidemiologist and the other teaches
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architectural drafting in high school. So, you know, they’re, I think they are. But I think
it’s really important. And I guess the other thing is, I think whatever you do, allow it to be
creative. If you don’t feel it’s creative, then something is missing. Science is very artistic.
History is very artistic. And part of what we’re all sort of—you know, part of our world is
an aesthetic world. And it’s part of what we really need to enjoy our lives.

[01:03:35]
So, that’s the other piece of advice, I guess I’d give people. That science is great. I’ve
loved it. And it’s not as definite as people think. I find this interesting because you know
there’s a lot of discussion about, you know, scientific truths. The reality is, science is a
matter of probability. And it’s just that you work with such larger numbers. What you see
because of probability, looks more definite than it is. But the whole debate about climate
change is, you know, this game of probability that’s going on.

SABRINA CARTER: Are there any other things that you particularly want to bring up in
the interview?

MARTHA RICHMOND: No. Just to say Suffolk has been a great place to work.
Wonderful people here. And I think things are going well here now and I’m delighted to
see that. And enjoy all of your time here.

SABRINA CARTER: Thank you for your time.

MARTHA RICHMOND: And hang in. November is a very difficult month. I know about
that. [Laughter]

SABRINA CARTER: Yes, Definitely.

[01:04:52]
MARTHA RICHMOND: You know that line from—are you familiar with the poem,
“The Wasteland?”
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SABRINA CARTER: No.

MARTHA RICHMOND: Okay. You know the poem?

PROFESSOR REEVE: I knew it.

MARTHA RICHMOND: Okay. The opening line is “April is the cruelest month,” okay?
And it talks about part of why April is so cruel because things are beginning to come to life
but they haven’t quite made it. And that is, in academic life, one of the two cruel months
because you have so many papers and so many assignments. And you don’t know how
you’re going to do them.

[01:05:23]
And the other is November for exactly the same reason. [Laughter] But you make it
through. You always do.

PROFESSOR REEVE: Martha, thank you so very much.

MARTHA RICHMOND: You’re welcome.

PROFESSOR REEVE: Really appreciate. Sabrina, kudos to you. You did a very nice
job.

END OF INTERVIEW

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