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May Brodbeck

May Brodbeck’s career in the sciences ran the gamut from teaching high school chemistry to exploring fundamental philosophical questions about the nature of human consciousness. Brodbeck put herself through night classes at NYU, earning a BS in chemistry in 1941, and taught high school before going to work on the Manhattan Project. She earned a PhD from the University of Iowa in 1947 and taught philosophy at the University of Minnesota, serving as dean of the graduate school from 1972–1974. She returned to the University of Iowa as professor of philosophy, vice president for academic affairs, and dean of the faculties, the first female administrator at that level outside of a women’s college. Brodbeck’s philosophy was notable for its inclusion of social sciences in the larger field of the philosophy of science and for her exploration of consciousness and the relationship between mind and body to determine what makes us human. She argued, “A robot can do anything a man can do, but it cannot be everything a man can be.” After she retired in 1983, the University of Iowa established a chair of liberal arts in her name.

Date of Birth
July 26, 1917
Place of Birth
New Jersey
Date of Death
August 1, 1983

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "May Brodbeck." (Viewed on December 9, 2018) <>.


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