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Marie Maynard Daly – Biochemist – First African American woman in the US to earn a Chemistry Ph.D.

Marie Maynard Daly – Biochemist – First African American woman in the US to earn a Chemistry Ph.D.

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.  

Marie Maynard Daly

Marie was born in 1921 in Queens NY, and fast developed an interest in science, taking inspiration from her Father, who’d been unable to complete his degree at Cornell due to a lack of funds. 

She completed her undergraduate studies at Queens College in 1942, graduating near the top of her class. She then managed to complete her Master’s in a single year at NYU while working part time as a lab assistant at her Alma Mater. 

Daly’s stamp on history came in 1947 when, after a mere three revolutions around the sun, she became the first African American woman in the nation to earn a PhD in chemistry. 

Like several of the folks that we’ll look at this month, Daly spent time teaching at Howard before diving into postdoctoral research at the Rockefeller Institute with a grant from the American Cancer Society. In 1960 she began teaching at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, where she would ultimately retire nearly three decades later. 

Aside from educating and contributing to essential research projects, Daly strongly believed that Science should be as inclusive an environment as possible. After retirement she developed a scholarship for African American science students at Queens College in the memory of her father.  

She was also very notably a panel member in a meeting of 30 minority women in the field of science that led to the publication of The Double Bind: The Price of Being a Minority Woman in Science. The link for this is below and it should at the very least be perused with diligence, so that one might gather a sense of how over nearly 50 years, we’re still faced with systemic barriers to inclusion in science, just as in every facet of our culture. 

My attempts to research Daly and consolidate a tightly woven, digestible, fascinating compendium of tidbits into a single blurb has left me feeling a notable despair in that there isn’t enough information. One article after another echoes the same things, and I’m beginning to feel as though this common theme on minimization of historical importance among some of these scientists has some fairly sorrowful eternal ramifications. 

The bottom most link in the little appendix type thing here, if you scroll down far enough and read through all of it, has a pretty easy to complete experiment that pays homage in some way to the discoveries that grew from Marie’s research. 

She was one of the early discoverers of the notion that cholesterol clogs arteries, and the heart doesn’t love that so much. Additionally worth noting, is that when James Watson and Francis Crick (and sadly not Rosalind Franklin…) won a Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1962, literally for publishing the double helix model of DNA that explains how it replicates and explores the hereditary coding of information contained within, they cited Daily’s work as being a critical component of their own discoveries. 

We encourage you to read more below, or dig deeper wherever you may have time or resources.

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