Dorothy Michelson Livingston

DML headshot from Ursula Ulmer 010221
Born in Chicago a year before her father, Albert A. Michelson, received the Nobel Prize in physics (He was the first American to receive that prize), Dorothy Michelson Livingston (1906-1994) recalls that her father was often not at home, but when he was, it was a treat. He would show her how a single hair caused a sensitive scale to stagger under its weight, or describe how a butterfly’s wings refracted light to create its fantastic colors. Her mother Edna, née Stanton, who had a stronger influence on her with her interest in plants, animals, literature and history, took her and her two teen-aged sisters to Europe to widen their cultural horizons. Dorothy was gifted in picking up spoken French and German, but less successful in the written grammar, failing to obtain her boarding school diploma. This did not dampen her intellectual curiosity and she was able to “skim the cream” off almost any subject, as she herself described her ability, while admitting its superficial quality. Her intelligence and charms were considerable. She was active in New York society, hosting dinner parties with guests connected to Broadway theater, the Guggenheim Museum, upcoming writers and architects as well as diplomats from the United Nations. She married four times and had one daughter with each of her first three husbands.

When she decided to write a
biography of her father, she was put off when told she had to cite every source of information. She had never written a term paper in high school! She hired a secretary to help her and this time she did not just “skim the cream”. She persisted for over 15 years to see the project through. She took courses in creative writing and physics. Her academically achieving daughters took an indulgent view of her efforts, not believing it would ever come to fruition — but they were wrong: the biography was completed and published by Scribner’s in 1973.

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Michelson eBook cover