Photo by Rick Watson.
0612 Dorothea Klip
Dorothea Klip survived a war-ravaged Netherlands before earning a doctorate in physics.
Ninety-year-old Dr. Dorothea Klip was the only woman studying theoretical physics at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands in the late 1940s. On a final exam, the only one to score higher than her was her future husband, Willem.
“If my mother had scored higher, my father might not have married her,” Klip’s daughter, Dorothy Smith, joked.
“I know our children will be smart,” Klip remembered Willem saying about her intelligence.
After the fledgling University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) offered Willem a job in 1958, Dorothea completed her doctorada degree (similar to a doctorate) long distance in 1962.
For 26 years she performed research in advanced mathematics at UAB and did computer programming to support her husband’s work in medicine and biophysics. She also indexed two volumes he wrote on bio-medicine.
When asked about learning to program early IBM mainframe computers, she becomes animated, gesturing with her hands as she explains the process of breaking down complex mathematical equations in terms the computer could understand and process.
Despite her age, Klip can walk without assistance, and her mind is still sharp as the point of a compass. She seems truly happy at this point in her life, but her childhood was a very different story.
Klip was born in The Hague in the Netherlands in 1921. When she was three years old, her father abandoned the family. Her mother couldn’t care for her, so she put an ad in the local paper seeking a foster home for young Dorothea.
Her foster father loved her, but the mother resented and mistreated her, Dr. Klip recalled. The child remained with the family, but it was not a happy time in her life.
Once in high school, Dr. Klip had the good fortune to have many bright teachers who provided the love and support she didn’t find at home, and this motivated her to do very well in school. She loved French and German, but was drawn to math and physics, fields traditionally dominated by men.
After high school in 1939, she got a job briefly with Shell Laboratories, but once the war broke out, she was dismissed and moved back home with her foster parents.
Late in the war, her father, who had been business partners with the Germans, fled with his wife, leaving Dorothea to fend for herself. She was in her early twenties at the time. She recalled people exchanging jewelry for food, and foraging through trash cans for scraps to survive the brutal winter of 1944.
She found a new home with a family after befriending a woman named Emmy Zandveld, who was 20 years her senior. They managed to barter with local farmers for enough food to survive.
After the war she didn’t have the money to go to college, but a retired professor helped prepare her for governmental exams that gave her the right to teach math at all levels.
After teaching two and a half years, she at last started university on scholarship.
When Klip retired from UAB in 1989, the Board of Trustees with President Dr. Charles McCallum awarded her with the honorary title Professor Emeritus.
Looking back on her academic studies in subjects that few people can even grasp, she shrugged sheepishly and said, “Actually, it was kind of easy.”
Since retirement, Klip lives with her daughter Dorothy’s family in Mountain Brook, spends time with her four children and keeps up with her 12 grandchildren on Facebook.