Campus & Community

Babette Whipple, former MGH psychology researcher, dies at 91

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Babette (Babbie) Samelson Whipple, former psychology researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), died on Dec. 18, 2009, after a short illness. The 60-year resident of Belmont, Mass., born July 22, 1918, in Memphis, Tenn., died at the age of 91.

At 17 she entered Wellesley College. She continued her studies at Radcliffe, earning an M.A. in philosophy before switching to psychology because she was attracted to the broader potential impact that her work in this relatively new discipline could have. She was awarded her doctorate, Phi Beta Kappa, in 1945 and began working as a therapist at the innovative Habit Clinic (now Thom Clinic) in Boston.

She married Fred L. Whipple, a Harvard professor of astronomy, in 1946. As she raised their two daughters and continued part time with her psychology research career at the Child Psychiatry Department at MGH, her duties expanded to include social support for the families of the faculty and graduate students at the newly formed Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, of which Fred had been named director.

In her basement you can still find a large box with the 50 teacups and saucers she used for the wives’ afternoon teas that she regularly held at her home in Belmont. During the heady years of Sputnik and the race to space, Babbie accompanied Fred on travels all over the globe to visit the satellite observing stations he had been instrumental in setting up and to join international scientific meetings.

A memorial service is planned for April 10. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Babette and Fred Whipple Fund for Graduate Student Travel, c/o Amanda Preston, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, 60 Garden St., MS-45, Cambridge, MA 02138.