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15 Black Women In Science You Probably Didn't Learn About In Your History Class

Dr. Green may literally have found the cure for cancer!!

1. Dr. Hadiyah Green

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Green was inspired to pursue a career in cancer research after both her aunt and her uncle died from the disease. She saw the effect of radiation and chemotherapy on her uncle and wondered if there might be a way to use lasers to target cancer cells directly so that healthy cells wouldn't be affected. When she tested her treatment on mice, she became the first person to cure cancer with nanoparticles. She hopes one day to make her treatment available through a nonprofit so it's affordable to everyone.

2. Dr. Mae Jemison

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Jemison attended Stanford at age 17 and did medical work in a Cambodian refugee camp and with the Peace Corps in Africa. After she received her doctorate and worked as a general practitioner, NASA selected Jemison for astronaut training. She was aboard the shuttle Endeavour as a mission specialist in 1992, making her the first Black woman in space. Since leaving NASA, Jemison has created a number of nonprofits and programs, including teenage space camp the Earth We Share and an initiative to expand space travel called 100 Year Starship.

3. Marie Maynard Daly

Marie Maynard Daly (1921-2003) was an American biochemist and the first African American woman to obtain a Ph.D. in chemistry in the United States. Daly overcame the dual hurdles of racial + gender bias by conducting several important studies on cholesterol, sugars, and proteins.

After obtaining her PhD in 1947 — becoming the first Black woman in the US to earn a doctorate in chemistry — Daly worked as a professor at Howard University and later helped develop programs to increase the number of minority students in graduate programs. She also started a scholarship in 1988 to honor her father.

4. Alice Ball


Ball was the first woman and the first Black person to earn a master’s degree in chemistry from the College of Hawaii. There, she worked with Harry Hollman to create a soluble version of chaulmoogra oil, which comes from the plant pictured above and was the only treatment for leprosy at the time but had adverse side effects. Unfortunately she died in 1916, at the age of 24, before she could publish the results, and the credit was stolen from her. Luckily, researchers later found proof of her work in the university's archives.

5. Aprille Ericsson-Jackson

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Ericsson-Jackson is one of the most well-known women working for NASA today. Inspired by watching the Apollo mission as a kid, she went on to become both the first Black woman to receive a PhD in mechanical engineering from Howard University and to receive a PhD in engineering from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. Ericsson-Jackson worked at NASA as an aerospace engineer in the robotics group but soon moved to guidance, navigation, and control, where she helped with calculations about the orientation and position of spacecraft in a mission.

6. Dr. Alexa Canady

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Canady, who graduated from medical school in 1975, was the first Black woman to become a neurosurgeon in the US. Written off at first by a hospital administrator as an "equal opportunity package," she was soon voted one of the top residents at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. She was also the first Black person to become a pediatric neurosurgeon, as well as the first woman to do so. She did wonderful patient-focused work at many hospitals before retiring, though she has come out of retirement numerous times when she has seen a need. She was also a professor of neurosurgery!

7. Carolyn Beatrice Parker

Associated Press

Parker is the first Black woman known to have received a postgraduate degree in physics. She did research and development for nuclear weapons in the Dayton Project, which was a research and testing arm of the Manhattan Project, in the 1940s. She got her master's degree in physics after World War II and had almost completed her doctoral program when she died from leukemia in 1966.

8. Margaret S. Collins

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Collins was the first Black woman entomologist in the US. She completed bachelor's and master's degrees in biology, then entered the zoology program at the University of Chicago, graduating with a PhD in 1950. She held faculty positions and made large contributions to her field, earning the nickname "Termite Lady." She was also active in the civil rights movement, risking arrest by driving her coworkers during the Tallahassee bus boycott in Florida.

9. Alma Levant Hayden

Alma Levant Hayden, possibly the 1st African-American female scientist @US_FDA, uncovered a false cancer therapy in 1963. Learn more abt her this #WomensHistoryMonth:

Johns Hopkins University Press

Hayden, who earned a master's degree in chemistry from Howard University, was one of the first Black women scientists at the National Institutes of Health and the FDA and made large contributions to the field of chemistry. Most notably, while at the FDA in the early 1960s, she proved that "Krebiozen" — which a doctor claimed cured cancer — was, in fact, creatine, and not an effective cancer cure.

10. Jewel Plummer Cobb

Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame / YouTube / Via

Cobb was the first Black woman to serve as president of a major public university in the western US. She did major work in biology, including research on melanin and cell damage that is still used today in the fight against cancer. Cobb, who earned her PhD in 1950, was also a dean and professor of zoology at Connecticut College and started many programs throughout her career to encourage women and minorities to study math and science. The National Academy of Science awarded her a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993.

11. Roger Arliner Young

Roger Arliner Young (1889–1964), 1st Black woman Ph.D. in zoology in US. #BlackHistory

CreateSpace Publishing

Young was the first Black woman to earn a doctorate in zoology. She got her master's degree from the University of Chicago in 1926 after being encouraged by Black biologist and zoologist Ernest Just while pursuing her bachelor's degree at Howard University. After earning her master's degree, she researched fertilization in aquatic animals and hydration of cells with Just and even filled in for him as head of the department when he was traveling. She went through a number of personal issues for a few years but returned to science and received a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in 1940 before finding work as a professor.

12. Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler

To honor Breonna Taylor's work in STEM as an EMT, I'm highlighting Black women scientists from history. In 1864, Rebecca Lee Crumpler was the first female African American to earn a Doctorate of Medicine. #BlackInSTEM #WomenInSTEM @WeRepSTEM @BlackWomenSTEM

Crumpler was the first Black woman to receive an MD, and when she wrote A Book of Medical Discourses in Two Parts, it became one of the first medical publications by a Black person. She worked as a nurse before attending New England Female Medical College from 1860 to 1864. After the Civil War, she moved to Richmond, Virginia, where she helped care for freed slaves and worked with missionary and community groups before returning to Boston to practice.

13. Dr. Dorothy Lavinia Brown

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Brown was the first Black woman to serve in the Tennessee General Assembly, as well as the first Black woman surgeon in the South. She graduated from high school and college at the top of her class despite a difficult childhood, then worked as an inspector for the US Army Ordnance Department in Rochester, New York, during World War II. After the war she went on to medical school, graduating in 1948, and worked as a resident for five years before becoming an assistant professor of surgery in 1955 and a chief of surgery in 1957. She was the first Black woman to become a fellow of the American College of Surgeons and was also a consultant for the National Institutes of Health.

14. Shirley Jackson

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Jackson was the first Black woman to earn a PhD from MIT, where she studied nuclear physics. She was also only the second woman in the US to receive a PhD in physics. Under President Bill Clinton, she was chair of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission before becoming president of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1999. She was also the first woman to serve as president of the National Society of Black Physicists and was cochair of the President's Intelligence Advisory Board under President Barack Obama.

15. And finally, Mary Elliott Hill

Mary Elliott Hill was an analytical chemist and professor. She started several chapters of the @AmerChemSociety where she taught.

Hill, an organic and analytical chemist, was a pioneering Black woman in chemistry who earned a master's degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1941 and became head of the chemistry department at Tennessee State University in 1951. She worked with her husband on research that aided in the development of plastics, and coauthored over 40 research papers and two textbooks. She also did important research on ultraviolet light.

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