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Tangs for the Memories

Rowena Matthews graduated from Radcliffe, worked for a Nobel Prize-winning scientist, and earned a PhD in biophysics from the University of Michigan. She also married a medical student and had two boys …all in the 1960s. That was unusual, but it got her more than 15 minutes of fame when Tang searched for someone to appear in a TV commercial.   

In 1972, Matthews was a postdoctoral researcher in U-M’s Department of Biological Chemistry when she received an unexpected call from her department chair. He explained that a friend who worked in advertising was looking for a female scientist with a doctorate and two children.

“I was the only woman he knew who fit the requirements,” says Matthews, who sons were 8 and 2 at the time.

While almost everything about the commercial seems humdrum and all-American today, the fact that its main character was a young, female scientist was decidedly noteworthy, Matthews points out. At the time, her life was not well represented in popular culture.

“That was the era of ring-around-the-collar. You know, women in commercials who would hold up the laundry and show how proud they were of how clean it was,” she explains. “So, to me, these Tang commercials were not just good for the company, they were wonderful for women. Here were women who were scientists and mothers. I just thought that was revolutionary.”

(YouTube link)

So Rowena Matthews and her sons became the face of Tang that so many people remember. What happened to her after that? When she finished her studies, she ran into problems finding a permanent position that didn't involve uprooting her husband (who had his own career) and children. Now retired, Williams tells her story at the University of Michigan Life Sciences Institute website. -via Metafilter


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