Mabel Meinzer Beckman was born on December 20, 1900, in Brooklyn, NY. Her mother, Alice, was from Ireland having immigrated to the U.S. from Castlecomer, a small mining town in County Kilkenny. Her father was from New Jersey. She had an older brother, Walter, and a younger brother, Charlie.
As a young adult, Mabel liked to draw and did some oil painting using photographs and picture postcards as subjects. She went to elementary and high school on Long Island and entered Pratt Institute to study art. She spent one year at Pratt and then got a job as an executive secretary at an insurance company.
Her plans changed forever on Thanksgiving Day 1918, as World War I was ending. Mabel and her mother were Red Cross volunteers, and as they were serving Thanksgiving dinner to the troops at the U.S.O, she met a young marine, Arnold Beckman, who was stationed at the Brooklyn navy shipyard.
Arnold and Mabel went on several dates after the war ended, and then they maintained a long-distance relationship for seven years while Arnold went back to Illinois to enter the University of Illinois and complete his degree in chemical engineering. He accomplished both bachelor and Master’s degrees and graduated in 1922 from the University of Illinois and he began his postgraduate studies at the California Institute of Technology (CalTech). He returned to New York in 1924 to be closer to Mabel.
In 1925, the two were married in Bayside, Long Island, NY in the Episcopal Church where Mabel had attended Sunday school and been confirmed. After marrying, the couple stayed in NY while Arnold worked for Bell Telephone Laboratory. In 1926, they drove out to California in a Model T Ford so that Arnold could complete his Ph.D at CalTech.
Dr. Beckman joined the CalTech faculty and saw his research turn into a new type of entrepreneurial business in chemical instrumentation. Mrs. Beckman was the support that Dr. Beckman needed to start on this unique and uncharted path. She traveled with him across the country as he started his business enterprises and, later, traveled the globe with him as his business became a world-wide leader in the biotechnology revolution.
In 1933, Dr. and Mrs. Beckman adopted two children, Patricia and Arnold Jr., and from this point on Mrs. Beckman was wife and mother. She joined the CalTech Woman’s Club and, later, the Beckman Instruments Women’s Club. As Beckman Instruments grew in size and influence, the family moved from Pasadena, CA down to the Newport Coast in Orange County.
Mabel Beckman had two passionate interests which she pursued all her life – sewing and cooking. She sewed, crocheted, knitted and embroidered both clothing and articles for the house. In her later years she did a great deal of needlepoint while watching TV. She loved to cook and was a good cook, collecting recipes and trying out new dishes. She was also very aware of good nutrition and took time to balance the family diet long before these ideas were popular.
Mabel remained Dr. Beckman’s lifelong confidante and sounding-board. As they began contemplating the formation of the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, she was instrumental in developing the mission of the Foundation and the early gifts to establish the Beckman Institutes at CalTech, University of Illinois, City of Hope, University of California-Irvine, and Stanford University.
Mrs. Beckman passed away after a long struggle cancer in June 1989. She is buried next to her husband in Cullom, Illinois.