marie maynard daly


Marie Maynard Daly became the first Black woman in the United States to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry, upon completing her doctoral program at Columbia University in 1947. She was fascinated with the inner workings of the human body and analyzed the digestive process in her thesis “A Study of the Products Formed By the Action of Pancreatic Amylase on Corn Starch”.

Of her many scientific achievements, Daly is known for her groundbreaking work studying the causes of heart attacks, in which she discovered a link between high cholesterol and clogged arteries.

While teaching courses in biochemistry at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University, she took action to increase the number of students of color enrolled in medical schools and graduate science programs. After retiring from her position in 1986, she established a scholarship at Queens College for African-American chemistry and physics majors.

Marie Maynard Daly

(1921–2003) Biochemist and educator

Marie Maynard Daly was the first black American woman to earn a PhD in chemistry. Her long and distinguished career included research backed by the American Cancer Society, the Rockefeller Institute, the American Heart Association, and was a member of the board of governors for the New York Academy of Sciences.

Number 156 in an ongoing series celebrating remarkable women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

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Marie Maynard Daly

Marie Maynard Daly (April 16, 1921 – October 28, 2003) was an American biochemist. She was the first African American woman in the United States to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry (awarded by Columbia University in 1947).

Daly’s father had immigrated from the British West Indies, found work as a postal clerk, and eventually married Helen Page of Washington, D.C. They lived in New York, and Daly was born and raised in Corona, Queens.[1] She often visited her maternal grandparents in Washington, where she was able to read about scientists and their achievements in her grandfather’s extensive library. She was especially impressed by Paul de Kruif’s The Microbe Hunters, a work which partially influenced her decision to become a scientist.

Daly’s father, who had attended Cornell University with intentions of becoming a chemist, was unable to complete his education due to a lack of funds. His daughter was there for continuing her father’s legacy by majoring in chemistry. Many years later, Daly started a Queens College scholarship fund in her father’s honor to assist minority students majoring in chemistry or physics.[2]

Daly remained at Queens College for another year, working as a laboratory assistant while attending graduate school at New York University. She completed her masters in Chemistry in 1 year. She then enrolled in the doctoral program at Columbia University, where she was supervised by Dr. Mary L. Caldwell. Caldwell, who had a doctorate in nutrition, helped Daly discover how chemicals produced in the body contribute to food digestion. Daly completed her Ph.D. in chemistry in 1947. Her dissertation addressed “A Study of the Products Formed by the Action of Pancreatic Amylase on Corn Starch.”[2]

Daly served two years as a physical science instructor at Howard University. After being awarded an American Cancer Society grant to support her postdoctoral research, she joined Dr. A. E. Mirsky at the Rockefeller Institute, where they studied the cell nucleus. In 1953, after Watson and Crickdescribed the structure of DNA, Daly’s world changed significantly: suddenly, the cell nucleus research field was flooded with funding opportunities. Her work flourished in the new environment.