Archives: Bodil Vibeke Jerslev Lund

With permission from Lise Oxenbøll Huggler, I’m sharing her very interesting memoir of her mother, Bodil Vibeke Jerslev Lund (April 30th 1919 – December 21st, 2004), a Danish organic
chemist and x-ray crystallographer.

On the 18th Century studies listserve,  Lise mentioned her mother’s connection with Princeton University in the 1940s.  That caught my eye because I live in Princeton and, among other things, work on New Jersey history of science and medicine.  So I urged her to pass along the account with the Princeton University archivist and asked if I could make it available to the WHOM listserve.

Lise adds: “I sent my account to one of my mother’s former collegues, and he wrote back that he, so to speak, could hear my mother’s voice in the quotings.”



cc: (Lise Huggler),
creager@Princeton.EDU (Angela Creager), (Daniel Linke), (Stephen Weldon, Bibliographer
for the History of Science Society)



Hi Karen,

I hold the family archives and have been delving a bit, so here goes:

Mor (at some time I began to call her “mummy” – she simply hated that, so I stopped and therefore use the Danish equivalent), Bodil Vibeke Jerslev Lund (April 30th 1919 – December 21st, 2004) was the eldest child of Aage Jerslev, pharmacist in Fjerritslev, a small town in Northern Jutland, and Ella Jerslev (born Friis Sørensen), also educated as a pharmacist.

Mor herself graded as pharmacist in 1941. In 1942 she was appointed “amanuensis” (something like junior lecturer) at the organic chemistry department at The Danish School of Pharmacy, Copenhagen. However, due to WWII, the education of pharmacists was closed; instead the University of Copenhagen and other “academic” Schools in the Copenhagen area arranged series of lectures for people like her on hot topics in science. She attended some lectures on X-ray chrystallography – and was sold! This became her main area of scientific interest.

After the war she got a grant to study X-ray chrystallography at The University of Uppsala, Sweden, in 1946, and she stayed there for, I believe, about 1 year. (By the way, my parents were engaged shortly
before, and far (aka my father), Christian Oxenbøll Lund, engineer, in ca. 1947 went to Princeton to work, first as a trainee in Bells Laboratories and later at RCA.)

Mor was in 1948 awarded “H.C. Ørsteds rejselegat” (Ørsted founded the Pharmaceutical School), which made it possible for her to go to Oxford to do research under the auspices of Dorothy Hodgkin in
the autumn 1948. From England she went directly to Princeton. It was Dorothy Hodgkin who got her the invitation from the dean of Frick Chemical Laboratory, professor Hugh S. Taylor.

Here comes a bit of human/cultural interest: My parents had planned to get married immediately upon mor’s arrival at December 27th, 1948. Far seems to be have ignorant that a Wassermann test (for syphilis) was required. On the way to their marriage at the Danish Church in New York, they got a hitch hike, and mor was about to blurt out about all the fun about their retarded wedding, but far hushed her since it was prohibited by law to live together prior to marriage…

Well, in the middle of January 1949, she started to work at Princeton. January 31st she wrote a letter to the leader of the organic chemical laboratory at The Pharmaceutical School in
Copenhagen, professor Hans Baggesgaard Rasmussen describing her immediate impressions. I quote two passages, in my translation:

“Well, now I’m established at the University in Princeton, which seems to be very exceptional. Beforehand, I did know that there are  only male students, but I did not know that there are absolutely no  post graduate girls nor assistants at Frick; anyway, there aren’t,  and whatever may have moved the leader, prof. Hugh S. Taylor to let  me in, I can’t find out, really. Still, here I am, and I am pleased  to be there. It is rather crowded, I share laboratory with a couple  of infrared people and Dr. White, an Englishman and X-ray chrystallographer. And am under orders from assoc. prof Turkevich,  who especially works on infrared spectroscopy. On the other hand,  this is a “genuine” chemical lab, in contradistinction to Oxford  that was purely chrystallografic, so I am doing very well.
Right now there is not very much X-ray apparatus, but they gather together, and apparently my appearance has given the enterprise a push, in any case a Weissenberg <camera> will
arrive in some weeks.  I believe that it is characteristic for the place that prof. Taylor didn’t batter an eyelid when he heard that it costs $1200, but that  he showed interest when he
asked about the space it occupies. When  he heard that its volume is very limited, he brightened up considerably.”

From a letter to Dorothy Hodgkin, dated March 18th 1948, I quote:

“I started at the lab. here in Princeton in the middle of january,  and at the first glance I was a little bit disappointed. The only X-ray camera, they have got, is a 114 mm diameter oscillation
camera, and though here is one X-ray tube, here is no further equipment, not even strips. However, they have, as you told me, plans to set up a better outfit, and it seems, that a Weissenberg
was ordered (Supper) soon after I came, and it is expected to arrive any day. Robertson-strips are also on their way, so in a few  weeks working conditions will be quite nice.”

The strips mentioned were paper strips used to do Fourier syntheses, indispensable at that time, before computers took over, to work out molecule structures from X-ray photographies.

Well, the arrival of the Weissenberg camera was retarded due to a railway strike. Instead, she got opportunities to go to other universities in the US which had the facilities needed.

My parents went back to Denmark before July 1st 1948.

Mor went back to work at the Pharmaceutical School. In 1958 she defended the dr.phil. degree at the University of Copenhagen on the  structure of oximes. Later that year, she was elected as professor  in
organic chemistry.

Kindly regards,

Karen Reeds, PhD, FLS
Visiting Scholar, History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania
Princeton Research Forum

Karen Reeds, A State of Health: New Jersey’s
Medical Heritage (Rutgers UP, 2001)

Published in: on June 7, 2011 at 7:18 am  Leave a Comment