LEONORA NEUFFER BILGER
(1893-1975), was a noted chemist and administrator at the University of Hawaii. Her peers especially recognize her contributions to the understanding of nitrogen compounds. Bilger Hall is named in honor of both Leonora and her husband Earl, also a UH chemistry professor.
University photo by Masao Miyamoto; University Archives
Leonora grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and graduated with a B.A., a M.A. and in 1916, a Ph.D. from the University of Cincinnati. She taught at Sweet Briar College, Virginia, and from 1918-1924 at the University of Cincinnati. There she established a reputation for her work in molecular structures and cancer chemotherapy. From 1924-1925 she was at Newnham College, Cambridge, England on a fellowship. During the courtship and early married years of Leonora and Earl, the couple alternated between the University of Cincinnati and the University of Hawaii before settling permanently in Hawaii, she as dean of women, he as chemistry professor. As dean of women, Leonora was known as "Ma" to several generations of UH coeds. She is remembered for her frequent lectures on lady-like proprieties.
She had a contentious relationship with UH president Crawford, and later, when she was removed as dean of women and returned to the chemistry department, played an active role in forcing the resignation of Crawford. This came about through the "special friendship" (in Crawford's words) of Leonora and Board of Regents member Samuel N. Castle, who lived with the Bilger couple in a large Manoa home. Leonora was charged by Crawford as having passed along malicious information about Crawford to the Board. (When Castle died in 1959 he left an estate valued at 3.5 million dollars to Leonora.)
She was chair of the chemistry department from 1943-1954. After that until her retirement in 1958 she was largely occupied in planning a new chemistry building, overseeing every detail, from the gas, water, and air systems to the adorning murals, depicting the Greek elements, fire, water, air, and earth as ancient Hawaiians would have interpreted them. After retirement she remained active in civic and academic affairs, speaking out often on her support for nuclear energy and opposition to the fluoridation of public water supplies. When Earl Bilger died in 1964, Leonora dedicated $25,000 in his memory to be used for the remodeling of a biochemical laboratory.
* Goodman, Madeleine J. in Notable Women of Hawaii, ed. by Barbara Bennett Peterson, (University of Hawaii Press, 1984) 33-37.