(April 16, 1921-October 28, 2003)
Marie Maynard Daly
The first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry.
Marie M. Daly was born in 1921 in Corona, New York. Her parents inspired her passion for science; her mother fostered her love of books and her father passed on his love of chemistry. Before Marie was born, her father had enrolled at Cornell University to study chemistry, but ultimately had to leave due to a lack of money.
Marie’s parents were strong believers in education at a time when attending college was seen as impossible to many African Americans. As a woman of color, Marie overcame financial, gender, and racial hurdles. Hence, after graduating from Hunter College High School, an all-girls institution in New York City, Marie attended Queens College in Flushing, New York, where she majored in chemistry choosing to live at home in order to save money.
Marie graduated magna cum laude in 1942 with a Bachelor’s degree in chemistry and was offered a fellowship to pursue her graduate studies at New York University, whilst working part-time as a laboratory assistant at Queens College. Marie completed her Master’s degree in just one year.
In 1944, Marie enrolled at Columbia University as a doctoral student, where she undertook research into compounds the body produces and how these affect digestion. Working under the direction of Dr. Mary L Caldwell (the first female assistant professor at Columbia University), Marie completed her PhD with a thesis entitled “A study of the products formed by the action of pancreatic amylase on corn starch”.
In 1947, she became the first African American woman in the United States to be awarded a PhD in chemistry.
Dr. Daly made important contributions in four areas of research: the chemistry of histones, protein synthesis, the relationships between cholesterol and hypertension, and creatine’s uptake by muscle cells.
Dr. Marie Maynard Daly, whose pioneering research resulted in a new understanding of the relationship between high cholesterol and clogged arteries. In fact, Dr. Daly’s work helped to shape much of what we now know about the biochemical aspects of cardiovascular health, identifying the link between high cholesterol levels and cardiovascular disease, which led to a better understanding of the causes of heart attacks.
Dr. Daly continued to teach and carry out pioneering research at Albert Einstein College, including the study into the effects of cigarette smoking on the lungs, until she retired in 1986.
Notably, Dr. Daly made significant contributions to the field of biochemistry while also advocating for increased enrollment of students of color in medical schools and science graduate programs. In honor of her father, she even created a scholarship program for minority students pursuing science degrees at Queens College.
In 1999, Dr. Marie Maynard Daly was recognized by the National Technical Association as one of the top 50 women in Science, Engineering and Technology.
Dr. Daly died on October 28, 2003.
Dr. Marie Maynard Daly’s impact on future generations of scientists extends far beyond her scientific contributions—her memory continues to inspire individuals from all walks of life to pursue careers in STEM.
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