By: Linda Sellars
Blog post contributed by Taylor de Klerk and Jessica Serrao, Library Associates
The Frances M. Richardson Papers are now fully processed and available for research in the Special Collections Research Center (SCRC). That means enhanced search and discovery for researchers, and improved preservation conditions for the materials now stored in archival folders and boxes. This is a must-see collection for anyone interested in the legacy of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) at North Carolina State University. The new guide to the collection is available here.
Frances Marian (Billie) Richardson came to NC State in 1951 as a research associate in the Department of Engineering Research, working closely with the Department of Chemical Engineering. She earned a B.S. in Chemistry from Roanoke College and an M.S. in Chemistry from the University of Cincinnati. She became a Fellow of the American Institute of Chemists in 1969. Richardson was the first woman faculty member of the School (now College) of Engineering. Later, she shifted into roles as associate director of the Engineering Operations Program and as a faculty member of the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering.
Much of Richardson’s research and publications focused on fluid mechanics and infrared imaging thermography, and she received the Sigma Xi Research Award in 1959 and the Roanoke College Alumni Distinguished Service Award in 1970 as results of her work. Richardson was first drawn to NC State because it was the first academic campus to build a nuclear reactor (which was also the first constructed outside Atomic Energy Commission facilities). For over a decade, she researched in rheology and used a radioactive tracer displacement technique to trace the flow of non-Newtonian fluids. In 1979, Richardson was elected the first president of the North Carolina Society of Women Engineers and the society named her Outstanding Woman Engineer in 1980.
Over the course of four months last fall, Special Collections’ Library Associates sorted through and processed 30 cartons of Richardson’s papers. The scope of the materials in the collection is diverse and highlight Richardson’s deep devotion to her research, her students, her departments, and the university. Richardson’s papers speak to her teaching, professional involvement in the fields of chemistry and biomedical engineering, and especially her passion for encouraging women and minority students to pursue STEM fields at NCSU and beyond.
Richardson was one of a relatively small number of women pursuing a STEM career in the mid-twentieth century. She overcame obstacles throughout her research and her professional advancement at NC State, some of which are documented in this collection. Her various roles over the years with student chapters of the Society of Women Engineers and Sigma Xi are also well represented. The more time SCRC staff spent with these materials, the better they understood Richardson’s personality. Her humor showed through with surprising finds like parodies about computers and a healthy collection of comic strips.
The Frances M. Richardson Papers is now available in the Special Collections Research Center for anyone interested in learning more about her. Additionally, there are related materials within other collections, including the Society of Women Engineers NCSU Student Section Records (UA 021.497), the Sigma Xi Records (MC 00246), records of multiple departments within the College of Engineering, and the soon-to-come Kenneth O. Beatty Papers (MC 00546).
For more information about the Frances M. Richardson Papers, please consult the collection guide online. To learn more about finding and using archival collections at NCSU, please visit our website. You can also search directly within our collection guides or browse a list of our collections for more. If you have any questions about how to find or use the collections, as always, contact us! We are here to help you find what you need.