Louise W. Carlson

Honored by:Marian B. Carlson and John R. Carlson
Brick location:C:10  map

Louise W. Carlson was born in 1918 in New York City and was raised in White Plains, New York. She studied English literature at Radcliffe College, earning a bachelor degree in 1939. She began graduate studies in economics at Bryn Mawr but interrupted them due to the war in Europe. She joined the M.I.T. Radiation Laboratory and for some years carried out administrative work as a civilian.

Initially she was based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but later she transferred to England where she worked at the British Radiation Laboratory under the direction of Samuel Goudsmit, co-discoverer of electron spin. Her decision to transfer from safety in America to England, during war, speaks to her strength of character and conviction.

After returning to America she married Bille Carlson, with whom she returned to England in 1947. They spent three years at Oxford where he carried out graduate studies in physics. For part of this time Louise worked as an assistant to Sir Isaiah Berlin, the philosopher and social historian. Louise and Bille moved to Princeton, New Jersey where Louise worked for some time as an editorial assistant at the Princeton University Press, helping edit a book by the mathematician George Polya.

Louise and Bille moved to Ames in 1954 where Louise lived (except for a year in Altadena, California and a year in Paris) until her death from leukemia in 1981. They raised two children in whose upbringing Louise made an enormous investment. Both children became academic scientists.

Louise exhibited the ideals of citizenship on which American democracy is based. She made great efforts to inform herself of current events, to inform others, and to express her opinions to her elected representatives. The strength and success of democracy in America owes much to such citizens. Louise also lent vigorous support to her community. She took a special interest in the educational and cultural strength of the Ames community.

While at Oxford, Louise met Heather Gell and entered into a very close friendship that lasted the rest of her life. Heather married Clayton Swenson, then a graduate student in physics; like the Carlsons, they moved in the 1950s to Ames where Bille and Clayton were physics professors. For some thirty years Louise and Heather and their families enjoyed a close relationship; it is fitting that Louise and Heather be remembered together.