Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Women in Radio: Mary Texanna Loomis

Mary Texanna Loomis with wireless equipment she built

Sitting on my desk these days is a well-worn burgundy-red copy of an unusual book: a wireless textbook written by a woman: Radio Theory and Operating for the Radio Student and Practical Operator, by Mary Texanna Loomis.
My copy, the fifth (1930) edition, is also unusual in that it once was the property of a female amateur radio operator, Lena E. Kay (Mrs. Arthur Kay), whose call sign was W5HLI, which indicated that Lena got her amateur radio license in U.S. District 5, that is, in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, or Texas. If you’d like to track down a radio call sign, the information at this link will help.

Reading Mary Texanna Loomis's 1,000-page book was no lightweight adventure--in more ways than one. Radio Broadcast magazine considered it “one of the most comprehensive volumes in its field” because it covered not only the radio theory and circuits of interest to amateur radio enthusiasts like Lena Kay, but because it also served as an electrical engineering textbook for future operators of radio telegraphs and radio telephone transmitters and receivers.

Mary Texanna Loomis was well prepared to write her textbook: she had founded Loomis Radio College in Washington, D.C., where she spent 12 to 15 hours a day studying, teaching, and writing about radios. The Loomis Radio College offered a six-month course leading to a first class commercial radio license and eventually a four-year course leading to a degree in Radio Engineering. From Wiccanpiper at everything2:
Miss Loomis also intended that her students understand more than just the inner and outer workings of radio. In addition to a radio laboratory (with equipment constructed almost entirely by Miss Loomis herself), the school maintained a complete shop capable of teaching carpentry, drafting, and basic electricity. She reasoned that many of her graduates might find themselves at sea, or in other challenging situations, and she wanted them adequately prepared. "No man", Miss Loomis said at the time, "can graduate from my school until he learns how to make any part of the apparatus. I give him a blueprint of what I want him to do and tell him to go into the shop and keep hammering away until the job is completed."
Mary Texanna Loomis teaching at the Loomis Radio College, circa 1920

With that kind of experience and attitude, it is no wonder that Radio Theory and Operating was, above all, an excellent reference for wireless telegraph operators. From the May 1928 issue of Radio Broadcast:
Miss Loomis’s book is to be recommended particularly to commercial wireless telegraph operators. The chapters dealing with the care of storage batteries, the functioning and care of motor generators and power equipment, and the regulations applying to commercial practice are thorough and complete. An extensive series of questions at the back of the book are helpful in preparing for Government examinations. Standard ship and commercial installations are quite thoroughly dealth with.
Mary Texanna was delighted to discover that she was related to Dr. Mahlon Loomis, the American electrical experimenter who was the first to send and receive wireless signals in about 1865, who was the first to use vertical antennas, and who received a letters patent for his system of "aerial telegraphy" in 1872.

This wireless-education pioneer was born on August 18, 1880 on a homestead near Goliad Texas. When she was three, her parents, Alvin Isaac and Caroline, returned to Rochester, NY and then moved to Buffalo, where her father became president of a large delivery and storage company. She later lived in Virginia. Mary Texanna was well educated and spoke French, German, and Italian as well as English. During WWI she became interested in the new field of wireless and in 1920, at the age of 40, established her school at 401 Ninth St., NW in Washington. (The school had it's own experimental license, 3YA.)

In 1938, she retired to San Francisco, where she established herself at the historic "Grand Dame" of Union Square, the St. Francis Hotel, and listed her occupation as stenographer. Mary Texanna Loomis died in 1960 at the age of 80.