A fortunate chain of events
Beverly Livingston’s UChicago legacy extends from her father’s Manhattan Project work to her Humanities Division bequest.
In 1995 Beverly Livingston, AM’68, PhD’74, returned to the University of Chicago with her father, Ralph Livingston, for an event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing. “Rockefeller Chapel was completely packed,” she says.
It was then that she learned her father, a Manhattan Project chemist, had been one of many scientists who signed a petition asking President Harry Truman not to launch an atomic bomb without first explaining and demonstrating its force and giving Japan a chance to surrender.
Ralph Livingston had arrived at the University about five months after Enrico Fermi led the team that achieved the first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear reaction in December 1942. He worked there for two years before moving to Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where he spent the majority of his career. “It took many years before he talked about [the Manhattan Project],” says Beverly, and even then it was only if he were asked to give a talk. “I knew very little about it at home.”
What she did know was French. In 1960–61 Ralph Livingston did research in France as a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow and Fulbright Research Scholar. It was a pivotal year for Beverly, then a high school junior. “That was my launch pad,” says Livingston, who fell in love with the country and culture. She went on to study French at UChicago; teach at Yale and other institutions; translate the work of Flora Tristan, an early socialist feminist; and start her own business conducting tours in French around the United States.
Now Livingston has included the University in her estate plan, leaving a gift to the Humanities Division. “I had no debt when I went off to take my first academic position,” says Livingston, who was offered a fellowship for her graduate studies and wants to ensure the humanities continue to flourish.
This year, as the University marks the 75th anniversary of Chicago Pile-1, that first controlled, self-sustained nuclear reaction, Livingston plans to attend some of the many associated events on campus—without her father, who died in 1998. She’s also donating some of her father’s effects to the University archives.