By Jane Keller Gordon, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Isabelle Chang, 94, and her late husband, Min-Chueh (MC) Chang, who co-developed the birth control pill and, through his research, set the stage for in-vitro fertilization, both contributed to society in ways that cannot be measured. While Isabelle’s efforts enabled MC to work long hours and pursue his breakthrough research at the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology, through her career and volunteerism, she herself contributed greatly to their hometown of Shrewsbury.
Isabelle Chang is proud to be listed in the Marquis Who’s Who as a “leader in the education industry,” and to have received their Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award.
Chang’s parents, then unknown to each other, immigrated to the Boston area from Canton in the late 1800s. Thanks to a matchmaker, they went on to parent nine children, whom they raised in Chinatown. Isabelle’s father, a tea merchant, was the first to purchase a building in their community.
“My father only finished high school, but he valued education so much. He always had a book in his hand,” Chang said.
She was the fifth child born, but the first to fulfill his dream. She graduated from Simmons College with B.S. in library science in 1946. She remembers meeting Eleanor Roosevelt in the school’s cafeteria.
“She saw me when she was having lunch and asked me to sit at her table. I was shivering the whole time, and said nothing,” recalled Chang.
Next, she focused on oriental studies in a master’s program at Yale University. While in New Haven, she met MC’s best friend. He was interested in her, but it was not mutual. It turned out that she was interested in MC.
“MC discouraged me from completing my program. He told me that people in China would know more than me, and there was no point in studying about the Orient. He invited me to go to a meeting with him in Milan. I said that I wasn’t that kind of woman. He said, ‘Of course, we’re going to get married.’ That’s what happened, and I never finished that degree,” Chang said.
In 1948, Isabelle and MC settled in a house in Shrewsbury within walking distance to the Worcester Foundation. Their children were born in 1949, 1952 and 1955.
“MC said that every woman needs about three years to recuperate from childbirth,” explained Chang.
After serving as a Shrewsbury Library trustee from 1958 to 1959, Chang was asked to be the library director.
“As a Chinese woman, I was surprised to be asked,” she said.
She held the director’s position from 1964 to 1969. During that time, she earned a Master of Arts in English at Clark University.
In 1969, with three school-aged children and MC working long hours, she transferred to the Shrewsbury Public School System. “My hours were better. I was asked to set up the middle school library, and then the high school library. I worked at the middle school library until 1981, and then transferred to the high school library,” said Isabelle.
In 1982, she completed a Masters of Arts in psychology from Anna Maria College. While working in the library, Isabelle counseled Shrewsbury students.
When MC died in 1991, at the age of 82, Chang decided that it was time for her to retire.
“I had a lot to take care of then,” she said.
Retire is not exactly what she’s done. A longtime writer of Chinese cookbooks and tales, she has continued her passion. She wrote “Spag: The American Dream” in 1992, “The Birth of the Pill” in 2014, and a book about Artemas Ward, a general in the Revolutionary War. She was also elected a Shrewsbury town representative.
Chang now spends several days a week at the Shrewsbury Senior Center, where she participates in a writing group, book club, and other events.
Looking back, she said, “MC should have won the Nobel Prize for his work on the pill. People should remember him, and they don’t. Maybe they will when they read this article.”