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Esther A.H. Hopkins

Chemist, city council member, and patent attorney Esther Arvilla Harrison Hopkins was born in September 18, 1926 in Stamford, Connecticut. Working as household servants, Hopkins’s parents encouraged her and her siblings to pursue their education. In 1947, Hopkins graduated from Boston University with her B.A. degree in chemistry. Just two years later, she obtained her M.S. degree in chemistry from Howard University.

Hopkins taught chemistry at Virginia State College for a short period of time before she decided to pursue research. Hopkins worked with companies such as the New England Institute for Medical Research as an assistant researcher in biophysics and the American Cyanamid Stamford Research Laboratory as a research chemist. Hopkins studied at Yale University, where she received her second M.S. degree in chemistry and her Ph.D. degree in chemistry in 1962 and 1967, respectively. She continued her work at the American Cyanamid Stamford Research Laboratory while she earned these degrees.

Following the completion of her Ph.D. program, Hopkins was hired as a supervisory research chemist with the Polaroid Corporation, where she led the Emulsion Coating and Analysis Laboratory, checking the chemical composition of the film coating for uniformity. During this time, Hopkins also developed an interest in the work of the patent department and returned to school. She received her J.D. degree from Suffolk University Law School. Hopkins retired from Polaroid Corporation in 1989 and began work as the deputy general counsel at the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. In 1999, Hopkins became the first African American selectman of Framingham, Massachusetts. She stepped down from this post in 2005, but has remained active in the community. Hopkins is married to Ewell Hopkins, a social worker and minister. They have one son, Ewell Hopkins, Jr.

Hopkins was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on October 13, 2012.

Accession Number

A2012.222

Sex

Female

Archival Photo 1
Interview Date

10/13/2012

Last Name

Hopkins

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

A.H.

Occupation
Schools

Boston University

Yale University

Suffolk University Law School

Howard University

Search Occupation Category
Archival Photo 2
First Name

Esther

Birth City, State, Country

Stamford

HM ID

HOP03

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Connecticut

Favorite Vacation Destination

Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Massachusetts

Interview Description
Birth Date

9/18/1926

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Martha's Vineyard

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Peanuts

Short Description

Chemist and lawyer Esther A.H. Hopkins (1926 - ) is known for her continued dedication to environmental protection and for her work in scientific research at such business organizations as the Polaroid Corporation.

Employment

Virginia State University

New England Institute for Medical Research

American Cyanamid's Stamford Research Laboratory

Polaroid Corporation

Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection

Framingham, Massachusetts

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Esther Hopkins' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Esther Hopkins lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Esther Hopkins describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Esther Hopkins talks about her mother's growing up

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Esther Hopkins talks about her mother's career as a domestic

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Esther Hopkins talks about her mother's educational aspirations

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Esther Hopkins describes her father's growing up and career

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Esther Hopkins talks about access

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Esther Hopkins talks about her parents' personalities and who she takes after

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Esther Hopkins talks about her siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Esther Hopkins talks about her childhood home

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Esther Hopkins talks about her childhood and her parents' work, part 1

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Esther Hopkins talks about her childhood and her parents' work, part 2

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Esther Hopkins talks about her childhood neighborhood

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Esther Hopkins talks about her elementary school

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Esther Hopkins describes the sights, sounds and smells of growing up

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Esther Hopkins talks about her interest in math

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Esther Hopkins talks about her middle school experience, part 1

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Esther Hopkins talks about her involvement in the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA)

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Esther Hopkins talks about her middle school experience, part 2

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Esther Hopkins talks about her interest in reading, television and radio

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Esther Hopkins talks about her high school experience

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Esther Hopkins reflects on the effects of World War 2 during her high school years

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Esther Hopkins talks about her decision to attend Boston University

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Esther Hopkins talks about her initial career aspirations at Boston University

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Esther Hopkins talks about her experience at Howard University, part 1

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Esther Hopkins talks about her experience at Howard University, part 2

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Esther Hopkins talks about her decision to teach at Virginia State College

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Esther Hopkins talks about her experience teaching at Virginia State College

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Esther Hopkins talks about her decision to attend Yale University

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Esther Hopkins talks about meeting her husband and her involvement with music

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Esther Hopkins talks about graduating from Yale University

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Esther Hopkins describes her dissertation research

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Esther Hopkins talks about her decision to join the Polaroid Corporation

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Esther Hopkins describes the chemistry behind a Polaroid picture

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Esther Hopkins talks about her interest in patent law and her decision to attend law school

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Esther Hopkins talks about her experience at Polaroid Corporation

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Esther Hopkins talks about the Double Bind Symposium

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Esther Hopkins talks about her article, "A Certain Restlessness"

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Esther Hopkins talks about her experience at the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Esther Hopkins talks about her political career

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Esther Hopkins talks about her involvement with professional organizations

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Esther Hopkins talks about her professional activities, part 1

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Esther Hopkins talks about her professional activities, part 2

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Esther Hopkins talks about her professional affiliations

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Esther Hopkins talks about Della Hartman

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Esther Hopkins talks about her family and her favorite things to do

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Esther Hopkins talks about her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Esther Hopkins reflects on her life and career

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Esther Hopkins reflects on her legacy

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Esther Hopkins talks about how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Esther Hopkins describes her photos

DASession

1$1

DATape

7$7

DAStory

3$6

DATitle
Esther Hopkins talks about her experience at the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection
Esther Hopkins talks about her professional activities, part 1
Transcript
So, you retired from Polaroid in '89' [1989], and you start a new career with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, EPA, the Massachusetts EPA?$$DEP.$$Oh,--$$Department of Environmental Protection.$$DEP, okay, right.$$But it's comparable to the, to the federal EPA. It's the Massachusetts State Department of Environmental Protection.$$Well, tell us about the transition to that job. What happened?$$Polaroid had a big offer of people, they were allowing them to retire early. And they were offering ten years additional onto your age or your, or your, the numbers of years you had worked there and everything and numbers of people were leaving at that time. And I took advantage of that one because at the time, if I worked, if I continued to work until I was old enough to retire at the regular age, I would really earn no more pension than I had at that point because of this additional one that they were giving out. So I retired. And I'm not one to sort of sit still and do nothing. I had the, the work that I had done in terms of getting a law degree, and I had passed the bar, I was a member of the bar. And a woman representative, my, from my hometown, from Framingham, indicated that there were some jobs available in various sorts of things. And she said, went over, and I applied there. I went over to interview them. It was different, it was law, but it, and it was not patent law obviously, but it was environmental law, and I did mainly administrative law with the department, with the general counsel's office. So I learned a lot about how laws are made, about regulations, about what goes on in the Commonwealth by way of pollution and about clean air and clean water and the things that are going on. And I found it very helpful to have learned that part of what goes on in terms of, of the Commonwealth. And I stayed there a little over eight, some years, and had an accident. My heel was broken and my jaw and my back and I was out for a long period of time, and it was very difficult to sort of get back. And then I was gonna be going out to Worchester to work rather than in Boston. Boston was very difficult to manage if you're, if you have problems getting around with the cobblestones and the traffic--$$Well, what happened to you?$$Huh?$$What happened to you?$$The automobile, I was in an automobile accident.$$Okay.$$Yeah, and so I decided that I was not going to go through another winter of hobbling around, trying to get out to work there on my feet. If I'm not gonna work in the winter, I don't want to work over the summer 'cause the summer is pleasant. So I quit.$$Okay, was it helpful to be a chemist and have, you know, a PhD in chemistry--$$Oh, yes. I have found that my scientific training has been very helpful in almost everything I've done. And I found that numbers of, of these things, you know, where I dip into this, and I do that, so many of those things come together in terms of being able to do things. And so, yeah, I found, I find my scientific work has, has been important in all of that. And my scientific work was important in terms of my getting to be a fellow in the American Chemical Society to have it down there. That, because that happened relatively recently.$$Now, this is, that's almost like the, if I'm not mistaken, it's almost like a Hall of Fame where they--$$They decided that those persons who have made significant contributions to the profession and to the society over years would be named as fellows. And they named a class of fellows in, I guess, 2010 and then 2011 and this year, they named another group. And--$$So you were made a fellow--$$A fellow of the--$$--in what year?$$Last year.$$Last year, okay, 2011?$$Eleven [2011], uh-huh.$Well, give us, you know, kind of a run-down on things you're proudest of, that you've been involved in?$$You know, people ask me about that, and I have on these things here, I have fried marble. My son made me that fried marble when he was in nursery school. And I put it on with my keys. And he, he often, he--whenever I get a chance to wear it, he sort of looks around and wants to know if I still have it because he brought it home to me wrapped in a little piece of green tissue paper for Mother's Day that year when I was at, at Yale, and he was going to the nursery school there. And I said, yes, I'll wear it son, and I'll put it on there. I have always been interested in a wide range of things. I've been interested in things that have to do with education, with religious and moral life. I've been interested in things that have to do with music. I have, of course, been interested in science and what that does for all of us. I've been interested in the arts, and how they, how the arts speak for that part of us. And from the time that I was, well, from high school on, when I first went to college, my, my father told me not to join everything that I was invited to join. And every year, my father would say, I had to get out of everything except three organizations. And by Thanksgiving, I was, so I ended up with Scarlet Key at Boston University which is the, the student, the student leaders organization there. I believe that if you're part of a profession, you should work with the profession. And so I joined the Chemical Society as soon as, when I finished Howard [University] because Howard--remember I told you that Howard was certified by the Chemical Society as, for giving degrees. And so I, I joined the professional society, and I'm still a member of their professional society, although I'm emeritus at this point. But I worked, I was thirty three with the council. I worked on most of the committees there, the, the committee on committees, which my husband thought was funny. They got so many committees they have to have a committee on them, with women chemists. I worked with the nominating committee. I worked in our local section here in Massachusetts. And I've been, I've chaired that, which was another thing I needed to thank Polaroid for because in terms of being chairman of the section, it takes a lot of time and doing. And my boss at Polaroid was kind enough to say, yes, he thought it was a good thing that I could do that. And so they allowed me enough time to, to be chair of the section for doing that. And I've gotten awards for some of those things. And I, and I actually chaired one of the ACS National Committees. I chaired the Committee on Professional Relations when, when Mary Good was president of the Chemical Society. She named me as a chair of one of the committees. And this is an organization. Earlier, the women who were chemists sort of went to the meetings, and they used to have breakfast and fashion shows. And we were part of the women chemists committee. We figured we really needed to do more than that, and we were gonna--they changed the name to the Women Chemists Association. We worked diligently at getting the society to recognize women chemists as full-fledged chemists.