Not long after the Soviets launched Sputnik 1, in 1957, New York City's Department of Education concluded that one impediment to keeping up with the Russians was eighth grade.
It identified thirty-six Queens elementary school students with an aptitude for science and placed them in an accelerated program, in which the three years of junior high were compressed into two. Quite a few members of the class, which was known as SP-1, went on to distinguish themselves professionally.
Linda Watkins, who was one of the ten females in the class, said recently, "Even though, ordinarily, you wouldn't think of girls being involved in science and math back then, people were so desperate to catch up in the space race that they put aside the gender differences."
The member of the class whose career has come the closest to what the program's creators had in mind is probably Judith Herzfeld, who teaches statistical thermodynamics and quantum mechanics at Brandeis. "Looking back," Herzfeld said, "I find it remarkable for the period that a new and ambitious, even aggressive, science program was given to a female teacher, Mrs. Esther Daly. I thought nothing of it at the time, but I suspect that having had a female science teacher in junior high school gave me some resilience for gender-directed weirdness in subsequent science venues."
Source: The New Yorker, August 29, 2011