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Alumna gives back to the school that “opened doors” in male-dominated field

When Mary Palshaw, MPH ’75, went to work as an epidemiologist at Stauffer Chemical Company, most of the other women she encountered on the job were secretaries. Men flat-out told her that they did not want to work for a woman.

“My job was to determine if there were any health problems occurring in the people working out at our plants. We had 88 plants in the United States, plus research centers and warehouses and all that. I did a lot of traveling out to these plants, and I was wearing a hard hat and steel-toed shoes and carrying a respirator as I was going around the plant. So I was around men, and they would always ask me, ‘Well, where did you go to school?’”

Palshaw would respond with the magic word, “Yale,” and immediately be taken seriously. She credits the Yale School of Public Health with her career and even with her ongoing role as a volunteer on the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

In gratitude, she’s made a bequest to the school, so that the support she’s always given her alma mater can live on. Living in Westport, Connecticut, Palshaw remained involved with Yale after graduation. That included attending lectures and other events, as well as service to the school in many roles. She has long been a class agent and has served as the school’s representative to the Yale Alumni Association (then called the Association of Yale Alumni). Along with her feeling of gratitude, she credits her close association with the school for her commitment to support it financially.

“Today people are in touch through social media,” she said. “But for my class, it was harder to remain tight with each other unless you lived near New Haven.” Having seen the school up close through the decades, Palshaw saw a lot that she wanted to support.

“I've seen how much the school has grown, particularly under Paul Cleary and Sten (Vermund) … I just have so much admiration for it. I think it deserves some money to help it out,” she said.

She added that making a bequest is a straight-forward process. And now, thanks to a new program launched by the university – the $50 million Challenge -- all new endowed gift commitments made by June 30, 2026 will be met with an equal amount of new unrestricted endowment from the university. Planned gifts, such as bequests and gifts that provide lifetime income, also count towards unlocking this additional endowment.

Palshaw noted that her arrival at Yale was unlikely. She was happy in her career as a medical technologist when her brother-in-law, a graduate of the program, encouraged her to apply. She was 37 at the time, and what was then the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health did not take “mature” students. Palshaw agreed to take two courses, without being admitted, to prove that she could do the work. She obviously could, and then worked extra hard to complete her degree in two years after the partial start.

“I took out two loans. I made it work. But I could not have afforded it as a twentysomething. That keeps me giving,” she said.