Toni Zala

Judy Tanenbaum provided this great pic of Great Grandmother Toni Zala (nee Antonia Szilard in Budapest, 1902), who had a PhD in biochem.


Judy shared these stories about her grandmother, Toni Zala:

My grandmother wanted to be a doctor but her father discouraged her, telling her if she was a good doctor she would have no time for other things and if she was a bad doctor she wouldn’t deserve to have the time.  Instead she became the first woman in Hungary to receive a PhD in biochemistry, a fact she was very proud to share.  Afterward she could do lab work, but she combined her administrative skills with her scientific skills and became a supervisor at Flora, a big soap and detergent factory.  She was let go from that job (maybe because she was Jewish?).  She was able to leave Hungary in 1950 and emigrated to Montreal where she reinvented her career as a research chemist at Montreal Central Hospital.  Her second husband died and she remarried and moved to Cleveland where she became a cancer researcher at University Hospital working under Hans Hirschmann.  She didn’t earn much but thoroughly enjoyed her work.

She didn’t tell her grandchildren many stories about her work, but whenever we ate at her house she would warn us not to touch the hot dishes.  She told us she could touch them because her hands were less sensitive after all her work in the lab.

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3 Responses to Toni Zala

  1. Lynne Switzky says:

    Fascinating! Was this the grandmother I met at your wedding?

  2. Debra Thomas-Zasadzinski says:

    What an impressive life your grandmother had!

  3. Leslie Polgar says:

    I was really moved that Judy (my niece) posted that great picture of my Mom, Toni Szilard! Toni — a southpaw — was a fine tennis player and was on the Hungarian Davis Cup team. My brother Andy (Judy’s Dad) and I learned early on to stay clear of her (left) backhand!

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