The diversity we see in higher education today started from a person who dared to believe. It started with the understanding that no one is a monopoly of knowledge. Black females today in the fields of STEM should take a moment to reflect on where it began. Who dared to say “I will enter that classroom”? Today we highlight Marie Maynard Daly. The first who dared and did.
Marie Maynard Daly was born on April 16, 1921, in Queens, New York. Her father was an educated man, an immigrant from the British West Indies, and attended Cornell University in his early days, but due to lack of funding, could not finish college. In turn, he became a postal clerk and motivated her to continue in school. Her mother was a homemaker and read books to Marie each night. Her mother would read her stories about science and the accomplishments of brilliant scientists. With nightly bedtime inspiration and her father’s love for science, she developed an interest in the field of chemistry. After reading The Microbe Hunters, her dream expanded to the field of biochemistry.
Maynard Daly was fortunate in that she attended a school that represented a portion of her identity: an all-girls school. There she said she was encouraged to consider a career as a scientist and consider it seriously. At Queens College, she graduated as a Queens College Scholar in Chemistry as one of the top 2.5% of her graduating class. Afterward, she attended graduate school at New York University, worked as a laboratory assistant, obtained her M.S degree in chemistry within a year of arrival, and then joined Columbia University. There, she was the first Black person to obtain a Ph.D. from Columbia and the first Black woman in the United States to receive a Ph.D. in chemistry.
Over the course of her life, her research specialized in the relationship between cholesterol and heart disease, as well as nucleic acids and protein synthesis. Nobel Prize winner James Watson, who believed Black Americans were “genetically inferior “ to White Americans, cited Marie’s papers in his publications on the double-helical structure of DNA. In 1955 she made the groundbreaking discovery that linked cholesterol in the diet and clogged arteries in the heart, later describing high blood pressure as a precursor to atherosclerosis.
From the time of her discovery until 1986, Marie worked at Albert Einstein College of Medicine where she taught biochemistry to medical students. After her retirement she worked to increase the enrolment of students of color at the level of higher education, establishing the Queens College scholarship at Queens College.
In the accounts of Marie’s life, it is important to acknowledge the lack of first-hand accounts of her experiences as a student, professor, mother, wife, professional, and all-around Black citizen of America in the 1920s-1980s. While we celebrate her life and admire her tremendous feats, we also mourn the loss of her voice in each narrative. This is not to assume the manner in which she had to interact with discrimination or project a narrative that does not fit her experience. However, Black-American history recounts the time between the 1950s to the 1970s to be a time of endurance and tremendous tenacity for Black America as they fought for social equality. To put her experience parallel to the social storms of her times, we see her ascent to scientific discovery as an excellent example of how social quality regardless of positionality is essential for the human community. The efforts at the end of her life to make the field of STEM accessible and achievable for communities of color show the cyclical benefit of abolishing institutional racial segregation and discrimination.
Marie Maynard Daly was a pioneer in the field of STEM for black females and we will continue to celebrate her in years to come. She dreamed at a time where representation was a novel idea and became the representation black girls needed!
To Marie Maynard Daly: Happy Women’s History month!
- The Public Engagement team at the Wellcome Genome Campus. (2022, February 4). Unsung Heroes of Science: Marie Maynard Daly. Stories. Retrieved March 11, 2022, from https://www.yourgenome.org/stories/unsung-heroes-of-science-marie-maynard-daly
- Marie M. Daly – From a love of Science to a legacy of discoveries. Science in the News. says:, N. P., & *, N. (2020, November 12).Retrieved March 11, 2022, from https://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2020/marie-m-daly-from-a-love-of-science-to-a-legacy-of-discoveries-2/
- Marie Maynard Daly. Science History Institute. (2020, June 15). Retrieved March 11, 2022, from https://www.sciencehistory.org/historical-profile/marie-maynard-daly
4. Marie Maynard Daly. Marie Maynard Daly | Columbia Celebrates Black History and Culture. (n.d.). Retrieved March 11, 2022, from https://blackhistory.news.columbia.edu/people/marie-maynard-daly