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MEET BETSEY

Everyone, all the kids who were born in 1918, the anniversary of the Eastman Kodak, we all got a Brownie box camera. I'm not sure what year it was but it was probably it was in the 30's. So I had this, and they were brown covered with a gold seal at the side. And I'm sure we had not taken a lot of pictures until I got that camera.

Somehow I took after dad. Of course, dad would not be with us all the time, so I took to taking the pictures. In fact, he was interested in teaching me. I remember the George Washington Bridge when they were starting to build it. He and I went up the cliff on the New Jersey side to see how the construction was progressing. And he had come back from Russia at that time with his fancy camera and a tripod and I had my Brownie box, which I put on a rock and he had his tripod. It was long enough pictures that we couldn't take in one shot. We took in segments and I had mine on a rock and I turned my Brownie like this and this to take the picture. My pictures turned out better than his. Was I happy about that.

When I got to Pratt [Institute, where she studied Costume Design], I had all these friends who were creative and artistic, loved beautiful clothes and colors and loved museums and adventurous outings. One year when my husband Ed and I were dating was when they had the World's Fair in New York, and for a five cents subway ride we would be able to, between us, get the comprehensive tickets and go repeatedly in on the same ticket. And we used to go to the World's Fair and they had all of these booths, countries were showing off their delicacies. We nibbled and ate our way through the fair many nights without having to pay without dinner at all. So it would be two five cent subway rides and free dinner and we would travel through the fair and it was so much going on. That was a wonderful fair.

By 1913, Bridges had published his first paper on nondisjunction, which was an initial proof of the chromosome theory of heredity. He published a more detailed account of this relationship between genes and chromosomes as the first article in 1916 in the new journal Genetics – remarkably, this landmark paper was also his Ph.D. thesis. Morgan described these papers as “a striking visual demonstration of the chromosomal theory of heredity.” The following year, and for the rest of his life, Bridges received financial support from the Carnegie Institution of Washington.

Work proceeded quickly in the overheated atmosphere of the Fly Room. Curt Stern has described the rank smell of fermented bananas in the lab and the cockroaches that infested the lab as a result. And Morgan himself explained that “…our proximity to each other led to cooperation in everything that went on. The discovery of a new mutant was immediately announced and its location in the gene chain anxiously awaited.”


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MEET CALVIN

Calvin was a brilliant, fascinating and charismatic, yet difficult man. Considered the natural genius in the Fly Room lab, he was the first to determine that chromosomes contain genes and to characterize all the genes on the X sex chromosome. Despite his four children, however, being a father and a husband came a distant second to his scientific pursuits and he had trouble connecting emotionally with his family, possibly a byproduct of his own tragic and unaffectionate upbringing. The same obsessive nature that brought him scientific recognition became a destructive force in his personal life. He had an uncontrollable desire for women, resulting in many affairs.

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He had an uncontrollable desire...

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Creative scientist, artist of genetics, social adventurer, the life of Calvin Bridges was multifaceted and unorthodox. He made major contributions to the revamped field of genetics that had been energized by the rediscovery of Mendel’s work, essentially built the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model organism, and systematized the genetics of Drosophila, creating genetic and physical maps of the fly chromosomes. Additionally, he was an inventor, designing much of the equipment used to study Drosophila as well as building a streamlined car, the Lightning Bug, and explored information science with his creation of a four-sided “totem” to track the genes and mutants of Drosophila. His private life was considered somewhat unusual — he challenged social mores of the times, supported the nascent birth control movement, and was interested politically in the Bolshevik Revolution as well as the Spanish Civil War. He visited the U.S.S.R. twice in the early ‘30s to lecture. Bridges hobnobbed with artists of the day, including novelist Theodore Dreiser, taking part in the founding of the short-lived literary magazine, The American Spectator.

His entire professional career was in Thomas Hunt Morgan’s lab. Hermann Muller in his Nature obituary of Bridges said he was “one who approached the wider problems of life in a spirit as rationalistic and as unfettered by traditional dogma… he preserved his early freshness of attitude, boyish enthusiasm, sunniness of character, and friendliness.”

 

Betsey's Fly Room

Betsey was ten when she first visited the lab with her father. She remembers it being very dark and cluttered and vividly recalls the putrid smell of bananas. Fruit flies failed to interest her. “The Fly Room was so full of stuff that did not particularly intrigue me at all, as a girl especially,” she remarks, laughing. Lining up in the hallway were these human embryos in jars, representing the stages of fetal development. Betsey remembers the Fly Room being jumbled, crowded, an unattractive place. But even as a child, she recognized the significance of the room and she’s aware today that to her father there was a sacred order to the objects, with each one holding a special place, even if that order was invisible to the untrained eye.

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