Emma Perry Carr was born on July 23, 1880, in Holmesville, Ohio, to Anna Mary Carr and Edmund Cone Carr. She was the third of five children. Her mother was a housewife, and involved in the Methodist Church and several community affairs. Her father and grandfather were descendants of seventeenth-century English settlers, and distinguished physicians.
Emma attended high school in Coshocton, Ohio. She then attended Ohio State University for her freshman year, 1898-1899, as one of a few women students. She then transferred to Mount Holyoke, where she completed her sophomore and junior years from 1899-1900. For the next three years she worked as an assistant in the chemistry department. She then attended the
University of Chicago to finish her undergraduate Bachelors in Science in 1905. She returned to Mount Holyoke and taught for two years, before completing her doctoral studies in physical chemistry at the University of Chicago in 1910. She was the seventh woman to receive a physical chemistry degree from the University of Chicago. While working on her thesis she was
awarded the Mary E. Woolley Fellowship and the Lowenthal Fellowship.
In 1910 she returned to Mount Holyoke and was made full professor, and became head of the Department of Chemistry in 1913. Emma Perry Carr has been described as one of Mount Holyoke's most valuable faculty members, since she exceeded everyone in teaching, administration, and research. She was very personable with students and faculty alike. Through the years, she remained involved and informed on the political issues that affected the world. Emma also emphasized the dangers of military control of the atom bomb. She imagined atomic energy as a practical energy source for the future.
At Mount Holyoke Emma Perry Carr pursued a new field in her scientific work. This involved spectroscopic methods for investigating the electronic configurations of organic molecules. In 1918 Emma published her first paper on this subject titled, "The absorption spectra of some derivatives of cyclopropane." This work was significant in two ways. First, it represented one of the first American contributions to the field of spectroscopy. Second, it established a research program at Mount Holyoke. In 1919 Emma went to Queens University in Belfast, Ireland, to learn the most current theories and techniques in ultraviolet spectroscopy.
Next Emma Perry Carr began to do research on the region of ultraviolet spectrum. She studied the frequency data and showed a relationship between the heats of combustion of the saturated hydrocarbon that corresponded to the alkene, and the heat of combustion of the alkene. She presented her findings at a meeting in Minneapolis, in September 1929, and then published
a paper on the relation between ultraviolet spectra and heats of combustion. Emma's vacuum spectrograph projects involved a faculty-student effort in preparing a set of highly purified hydrocarbons, and in examining their ultraviolet absorption spectra in liquid and vapor phase. The impact of this work changed the way we understand the carbon-carbon double bond. These results were also of interest to the petroleum industry. Emma presented several papers to the Petroleum Chemistry Section, and this work continued through the 1940's, inspiring both students and faculty.
In 1946 Emma Perry Carr retired from Mount Holyoke. She was a popular speaker at universities, sororities, and clubs. She loved to listen to music, as well as perform it. She played the organ at the Methodist Church, and played the cello for years until finally arthritis ended her
capacity to play. Emma was the first to receive the Garvan Medal given by the ACS in 1937. She also accepted honorary degrees from Allegheny College in 1939, Russell Sage College in 1941, and Hood College in 1957.
Emma Perry Carrs health began to fail her and was then put into a Presbyterian Home in Evanston, Illinois, where her nephew, James Carr, and the rest of her family took care of her. Funds were donated in November 1971 on behalf of Mount Holyoke by the president of the university, to help her with medical costs. On January 7, 1972, she passed away of heart failure. Her contributions to research, the students, and the college are extensive and best summarized by a closing statement made at her memorial service by George Hall, "Mount Holyoke College was built by great women; one of the greatest of these was Emma Perry Carr." (Grinstein, 79)
Grinstein, Louise S., Rose K. Rose, and Miriam H. Rafailovich. Women in Chemistry and Physics. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, © 1993.
Rossiter, Margaret W. Women Scientists in America. Maryland; the John Hopkins University Press, © 1982