Marie Maynard Daly (1921-2003) was the first African American woman to obtain a PhD in chemistry in the United States. Daly overcame the dual hurdles of racial and gender bias by conducting several important studies on cholesterol, sugars, and proteins. Her outstanding work continues to have a lasting impact on scientific research.
As a young girl, Daly was an avid reader. She had a budding interest in science and became inspired by her father’s love of science. He had been forced by economic circumstances to drop out of Cornell University, where he had been pursuing a bachelor’s degree in chemistry.
Daly enrolled in Queens College in Flushing, New York, and graduated in 1942 with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, the same degree her father would’ve earned. She later pursued graduate studies in chemistry at New York University, while working part-time as a laboratory assistant at Queens College. After working for one-year tutoring chemistry students at Queens College, Daly enrolled in the doctoral program at Columbia University. She researched how compounds produced in the body affect and participate in digestion. In 1947, she was awarded her doctoral degree.
After completing her doctoral degree, Daly taught for two years at Howard University in Washington, DC. She later joined Alfred E. Mirsky, a pioneer in molecular biology, at the Rockefeller Institute in New York. Afterward, Daly took a new position teaching biochemistry at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University. In 1960, she became a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, where she remained until her retirement in 1986.
In addition to her research, Daly was committed to developing programs to increase the enrollment of minority students in medical school and graduate science programs. In 1988, she established a scholarship fund for African American science students at Queens College in honor of her father.
Daly’s story helps us to recognize and acknowledge the significant achievements of women and minorities in science. Their stories are important as we encourage and support females in STEM.
“Courage is like — it’s a habitus, a habit, a virtue: you get it by courageous acts. It’s like you learn to swim by swimming. You learn courage by couraging.”
– Marie Maynard Daly
Author: Sophie Okolo
Sophie Okolo is a researcher, writer and science communicator. She has a bachelor’s degree in bioinformatics and master’s degree in public and community health.