Skip to content
Margaret S. Collins – Entomologist and Civil Rights Activist

Margaret S. Collins – Entomologist and Civil Rights Activist

Black History Month - Focus on Science

As we move with hope and vigor towards a time in which the monumental achievements and contributions of Black and Indigenous folks are recognized with priority for 12 months of the year rather than sequestered to our calendar's shortest month, hBARSCI wishes to pay tribute to a handful of extremely important scientists. 

Though often underrepresented in history, these are people who have aided immeasurably in the evolution of humankind's understanding of our world and universe, and in our ability to survive on a small rock tearing through space at 1,000 miles per hour.

We will feature a Scientist weekly throughout the month, and it is our hope that these small bits of commentary will encourage further curiosity and learning. If there is a particular scientist who you would like to see featured here at any time of year, don't hesitate to reach out and let us know.  

Margaret S. Collins

Until a short while ago, like far too many folks not familiar with the world of entomology, I’d never heard of Margaret Strickland Collins, a child prodigy from the mountains of West Virginia. 

Collins, born in 1922, graduated high school and started college at West Virginia State at the age of 14, where she would overcome numerous barriers to education in what was then a very male-dominated biology field. 

We think that is a perfect reason to recognize her accomplishments, meditate on her contributions to our world, and spend some quality time learning about her this month (and any other month really). 

After a dominant performance in her undergrad studies, Collins found her way to the University of Chicago where she met Alfred Emerson, who at the time maintained the world’s largest collection of termites. Despite having a rad termite collection, Emerson was not the kind of guy that would not send a woman into the field due to his belief that they were troublesome.

Despite this misogyny, Collins leveraged her relationship with Emerson and his collection in order to complete her dissertation, Differences in Toleration of Drying among Species of Termites (Reticulitermes), and earn her PhD.

From here Collins would move on to being an assistant professor at Howard University, but after quickly determining that Howard was at the time a bit slow in promoting women through their system, she found her way to a full professorship and Biology Dept Chair at Florida A&M. 

For the next three decades she would hold tenured teaching positions and administrative roles at Florida, Federal City College in DC, and once again at Howard University, where she would retire in 1983 to fill the Senior Research position at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, where she would work until her passing in 1996.

Collin’s career produced over 40 research publications on termites, but also co-edited a book examining racism and science through a multidisciplinary lens (link below). 

As always, further exploration is encouraged!

Previous article Celebrating Pi on 3/14 and All Year Round!