Bettyann Kevles, an award-winning author who was a senior lecturer in Yale’s Department of History and an affiliate of the Program in the History of Science and Medicine, died on Aug. 18, two days short of her 85th birthday.
A native of New York City and educated at Vassar College and Columbia University, she taught at the Westridge School and at the Art Center College of Design, both in Pasadena, California, where she lived for some 30 years before coming to Yale, in 2001. While in California, she wrote a weekly column, “Scientific View,” for the Los Angeles Times that won the Genesis Award from the Fund for Animals. She also regularly reviewed books for the paper and was a science editor at the University of California Press.
She participated in the memorable Program for the Study of Women and Men in Society, which was led by feminist writer and activist Betty Friedan at the University of Southern California, and profiled Friedan in an exclusive for the Los Angeles Times Magazine.
In her writings, Kevles helped pioneer coverage of how women broke through institutional barriers in modern science and reshaped the practices and intellectual content of the fields in which they worked. Her books include “Almost Heaven: The Story of Women in Space,” “Females of the Species: Sex and Survival in the Animal Kingdom,” and “Watching the Wild Apes: The Primate Studies of Goodall, Fossey, and Galdikas,” which won the Horn Book-Boston Globe award for Best Non-fiction and the New York Academy of Sciences award for Best Science Book. She also published “Naked to the Bone: A History of Medical Imaging,” a unique, ground-breaking work that not only explored the development of major imaging technologies, from X rays to CT-Scans and MRI, but also recounted the impact of these technologies not only in medicine but also in the law courts and art.
At Yale, Kevles taught seminars in a variety of subjects, including the history of medical imaging, human-animal relations, and animal behavior. She was a fellow of Jonathan Edwards College; a member of PEN (Poets, Essayists, Novelists), an international organization working to protect free expression in the U.S. and globally, serving on its Committee on Writers in Prison; and was a member of the New York Institute of the Humanities.
Her many friends found her compelling company, insatiably curious, warm, funny, and generous. One of them noted that with her death “one of the colors in the rainbow has fallen from the sky.”
Kevles is survived by Dan, her husband of 62 years; her daughter, Beth; her son and daughter-in-law, Jonathan and Catalina; three grandchildren, Michael, Joel, and Lucia; and her brother and sister-in-law, Edward and Gloria.
Friends and family will host a Zoom celebration of her life and work sometime in the fall. Details will be made available on Facebook and by other means.