Earlier in her life, Alma Rosenbaum Hurwitz had a career plan: “I wanted to be vice president at GE,” her daughter, Robin Inwald, recalled her mother telling her.
Hurwitz, who died on Thanksgiving at age 96, might have been a generation too early to fulfill her career plan, but she lived a full life, Inwald said, raising four children — who would go on to successful scientific careers of their own — while pursuing countless academic, creative and recreational passions of her own.
Hurwitz was born July 7, 1924, and grew up in Richmond, Virginia, earning a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1945 from the University of Richmond. She moved to Schenectady for a job as a lab assistant at General Electric. After a short stint in that position, she earned her master’s degree in physics from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, before returning to work at the GE Research Lab and Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory.
In 1950, a paper she wrote on phosphors won first place in a company contest. But she also watched as less qualified men scored better positions and promotions and she was shunted to support roles.
“She found to her dismay… she was basically put on the job of making calculations,” Inwald said. “GE had its women do things that were more of the background work. She was disappointed in watching the men come back from war not as qualified or credentialed, getting more money and promotions.”
While at GE she met her husband, Henry Hurwitz Jr., a renowned theoretical physicist with a long career at GE. After the couple had their first child, Inwald said, Alma Hurwitz stopped working and threw herself into raising her children and pursuing her interests.
“She was accepting it was not her fate to be vice president of General Electric. She realized it wasn’t in the cards for women those days, so she embraced being a housewife,” Inwald said of her mother. “She was not going to be able to break the glass ceiling let alone touch it in those days, but she was still able to achieve a lot and put her energy into making sure her children could have those careers.”
Inwald remembered her mom constantly taking her and her siblings to different activities, and cooking the best Betty Crocker meals. She called her a “super mom.”
“She really fully immersed herself in Schenectady life,” Inwald said. “She made sure we had every opportunity. Almost every day was filled with another activity that allowed us to explore our own talents.”
In addition to her scientific acumen, Hurwitz also pursued many creative pursuits. She wrote poetry that was shared in the community; she tap danced, performing for WWII soldiers and later in life in local performances at Proctors. She was also an athlete: she was a swimmer, refereeing local matches, and scuba diver and sailed with her husband on Lake George, racing as often as twice a week on their 25-foot C&C sailboat.
“She was a Renaissance woman,” Inwald said.
Henry taught the older kids to ski, while Alma stayed home with the youngest. When it was the youngest’s turn to learn, Alma couldn’t abide waiting alone at home.
“She said, ‘No, that’s not going to work,’ ” Inwald said. “So she got in the car with us.”
Hurwitz, then age 40, learned to ski and took up yet another passion, picking up ski racing in her 60s. She placed third among women over age 70 in a 1998 race at Gore Mountain and continued skiing into her 80s. While on a cruise in Alaska, Hurwitz joined Inwald on a side trip to dogsled on a glacier. Hurwitz was 85.
In some ways, Hurwitz’s children, particularly her daughters, who both earned doctorates, lived out her ambitions: Inwald, the oldest, works as a police psychologist and lives in Lake George; Julia Hurwitz Coleclough, the second daughter, works as a research scientist in immunology and lives in Memphis; Wayne Hurwitz, the youngest, works as an aeronautical engineer and lives in Los Angles, and; Barry Hurwitz Dayton, Hurwitz’s stepson, was a mathematician and lives in Connecticut.
Her children reached the pinnacles of their chosen careers, and she helped them get there.
“At the same time that she was proud of it, I think she was a little wistful,” Inwald said. “She was all prepped and primed to have a full career as a mother and as a scientist…. She could have if she was born a generation later, she was too early for her time.”
Inwald said Thanksgiving was a favorite of her mom’s, and the menu was always the same. Potato and marshmallow casserole, Turkey stuffing, mushrooms with butter, beans with almonds.
“She died on her day,” Inwald said.
Her family, spread across the country like so many others, already had prepared Hurwitz’s specialties and had a chance to say goodbye remotely. Alma’s name translates to soul. Inwald said her signature poem was titled “Defining Soul.” The poem, penned under her initials, ARH, is dated to the “Early 21st Century”:
“With each soul/ Comes celebration/ And the quest/ for explanation:/ Mystery of/ Life’s sensation,/ Miracle of inspiration.”