While in the late 1960s, women started making progress towards equality, men and women were far from equals in the 1950s and early1960s. Most women were homemakers. While some women worked outside the home, I would guess that many were in traditional “women’s” jobs such as teaching or nursing. It would have been a small percentage of women who were in the jobs traditionally thought of as males’ domains. Like chemistry, for example.
Elizabeth Zott — the protagonist of author Bonnie Garmus’s irresistible debut novel Lessons in Chemistry — is bucking all odds and working as a chemist. She is the lone woman in a sea of men, all of whom think of her as a pretty face who simply doesn’t know her place. That is, until fellow chemist Calvin Evans falls in love with her, and oddly, it’s for her brain and not her appearance.
Elizabeth isn’t trying to be a barrier breaker. She simply wants to be a chemist, and thinks being a woman shouldn’t stop her. She works away steadily, not making waves, but not backing down either. Eventually she and Calvin become a couple, and their relationship is nothing short of wonderful.
Life happens, but then an unexpected opportunity comes Elizabeth’s way. She is asked to host a new television cooking show called Supper at Six. She agrees with the caveat that she can develop the show the way she wants, with all eyes on chemistry. “Combine one tablespoon acetic acid with a pinch of sodium chloride” she says to the women eagerly watching the show. She teaches her fans not only how to cook, but also how to think for themselves.
Elizabeth Zott is a character I won’t soon forget. Nor will I forget the rest of her friends and family, including her precocious daughter Mad and her dog Six Thirty (named for the time of day she rescued him). Though I suspect Elizabeth would be considered on the spectrum these days, I cheered for her relentless pursuit to be admired for her mind and to be free to do any job she wants.
I highly recommend this book.