The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks… at Smith College


As many of you may know, Smith has chosen its required reading for all incoming first years. This year, it’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. (Coincidentally, I just finished reading it and highly recommend it.)

Scoobydoobeach ’75 writes about the required reading during her time at Smith:

I noticed the other day that my alma mater had assigned the book, Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, to incoming freshman to read.  I remember getting in the late spring of 1971 the list of books to read before attending Smith.  I believe we had to read several books although I cannot remember any of the names of the books I read except for one, The Feminine Mystique.


The young women of 2011 are facing a different world than I did in 1971.  Given the overwhelming proliferation of electronic information and educated people’s almost obsessive trust in science, the examination of the ethics of an even earlier time, 1951, in taking someone’s cells without permission which in turn would yield so much valuable information for humankind, is an interesting exercise.  My view of 1951 was through the lens of  how the post war period affected women’s lives and as I have said had a profound effect on my own life. Hopefully for these women the consideration of ethics in science (particularly in view of the fact that Lacks was African American) will have an impact on their future and their view of the rights to dignity and self determination of all people.


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