The blockbuster film about NASA’s human computers, Hidden Figures, made famous the black women scientists Mary Jackson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Katherine Johnson. There are so many other black women scientists who’ve achievements also deserve the spotlight. Following are a selection.
Mamie Phipps Clark
A social psychologist, Mamie was born in 1917 to her physician father and homemaker mother in Arkansas. After receiving various scholarship opportunities, she selected Howard University as her alma mater in 1934. She started out in a math major with a minor in physics. Then she met the man who would become her husband, Kenneth Bancroft Clark, who was a master’s student pursuing psychology. He convinced her to pursue her interests in the development of children by switching to a psychology major. She graduated from Howard University magna cum laude in 1938, continued her schooling to receive her master’s there, including in psychology, and then later got her PhD in 1943 from Columbia University, becoming the first black woman to receive a psychology doctorate there.
Joycelyn Elders, M.D.
Born Minnie Lee Jones in Arkansas in 1933 to sharecroppers, she was the oldest of eight children in a three-room cabin that lacked electricity and plumbing. Despite hardships, Minnie graduated valedictorian and went to college in Little Rock, the first of her family to do so. There she changed her name, selecting Minnie Joycelyn Lee, later dropping her first name. She received her B.S. in Biology in 1952 from Philander Smith College. In 1953, after a brief stint as a nurse’s aide, she joined the U.S. Army’s Women’s Medical Specialist Corps. She married Oliver Elders in the year 1960 while in attendance at the University of Arkansas’ Medical School, using the G.I. Bill’s assistance, and received her M.D. in 1960. She went on to get her M.S. in Biochemistry in the year 1967. She became the first to receive board certification in the state of Arkansas as a pediatric endocrinologist in 1978. In 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed her as the Surgeon General of the United States, the first African American to hold the place.
Other exceptional black women scientists include Rebecca Lee Crumpler, who in 1864 was the first African American woman to earn a Doctorate of Medicine in the United States. And in 1947, Marie Maynard Daly became the first African American woman to achieve a PhD in chemistry. These and so many more deserve recognition.