Daly, Marie Maynard 1921–
Marie Maynard Daly 1921–
In 1947 Marie Maynard Daly became the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in the field of chemistry. She then built a career in research and teaching at such prestigious academic institutions as the Rockefeller Institute, Columbia University, and Yeshiva University. Daly’s research focused on protein structure and human metabolism. Among other things, she contributed greatly to an understanding of the causes of heart attacks and lung disease.
Marie Maynard Daly was born on April 16, 1921, in Corona, Queens, New York. She was the oldest child and only daughter of Helen Page Daly and Ivan C. Daly. Her two younger brothers were fraternal twins. Her mother was a homemaker who grew up in New York, although her family was from the Washington, D.C., area. Her father, Ivan, was a postal worker who was born in the British West Indies and moved to the United States as a young man.
Ivan Daly aspired to be a chemist and received a scholarship to study at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. However, neither he nor his parents were able to pay for his room and board, so Ivan Daly had to stop attending school after only one semester. As Marie Daly told Contemporary Black Biography (CBB), “My father wanted to become a scientist but there weren’t opportunities for him as a black man at that time.” However, Ivan Daly’s interest in science spread to his family. His daughter recalled that she had always been interested in science. “My parents didn’t discourage me because I was a woman,” Daly proudly declared in an interview with CBB. Her parents encouraged her to pursue her education, and her mother regularly helped her with homework. Daly also enjoyed reading as a child. One of her favorite books was Paul DeKruip’s Microbe Hunters, a very popular book at the time that chronicled the lives and accomplishments of the early microbiologists such as Antony van Leeuwenhoek, Louis Pasteur, and Robert Koch. The book was published in 1926 when Daly was just a child.
Daly’s supportive environment extended to her schools as well. She recalled to CBB that her teachers encouraged her scientific interests. She attended Hunter College High School, which at that time was an all–girls school with an all–female faculty run by Hunter College in Manhattan. Daly went on to attend college at Queens College in Flushing, New York, so that she could remain close to home. This was a fairly new college with a small student body and a beautiful campus. Daly told CBB that her education at Queens College was memorable because of the small classes and the high quality instruction. Daly decided to study chemistry, like her father, even though she was not really aware at that time of the various career options in the field. Daly earned a bachelor of science degree, magna cum laude, in 1942. She was also named a Queens College Scholar for her academic achievements and was inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi honor societies.
Daly enjoyed studying, so she decided to continue her education in chemistry. As she told CBB, “I knew I was a good student.” Daly worked as a laboratory assistant
At a Glance …
Born Marie Maynard Daly on April 16, 1921, in Queens, NY; daughter of Ivan C. and Helen Page Daly; married Vincent Clark, 1961. Education: Queens College, B.S., 1942; New York University, M.S., 1943; Columbia University, Ph.D., 1947.
Career: Howard University, instructor of physical science, 1947–48; Rockefeller Institute of Medicine, research assistant, 1946–55; Columbia University, biochemist associate, 1955–59, assistant professor of biochemistry, 1960–61; American Heart Association, investigator, 1958–63; Yeshiva University, assistant professor of biochemistry and medicine, 1960–71; Health Research Council of New York, cancer scientist, 1962–72; Yeshiva University, associate professor of biochemistry and medicine, 1971–86; Commission for Science and Technology of the City of New York, 1986–89.
Memberships: American Chemical Society; American Society of Biological Chemists; Ameri can Heart Association; Harvéy Society; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women; New York Academy of Sciences Board of Governors.
Awards: Phi Beta Kappa; Sigma Xi; Queens College Scholar; fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science; fellow, American Heart Association.
and teaching assistant in the chemistry department at Queens College to support herself while she studied for her master’s degree. She earned a master of science degree in chemistry in 1943 from New York University. Even though this was the 1940s, Daly did not consider chemistry to be an unusual career choice, because in both high school and college there were other women in her science classes. For the next year Daly continued her jobs at Queens College while she decided what to do next with her career.
With the country involved in the middle of World War II, it was not clear what job opportunities would be available for a black woman in the field of chemistry. Daly told CBB that she decided to continue her education and pursue a doctorate in chemistry because “there wasn’t any opportunity for me if I left school at that time.” Daly enrolled at Columbia University in New York City, where she studied biochemistry under Dr. Mary Letitia Caldwell, a well–known chemist who specialized in studying enzymes. Daly wrote her dissertation about how chemicals digest food. Her thesis was titled “A Study of the Products Formed by the Action of Pancreatic Amylase on Corn Starch.” When she graduated in 1947, Daly was not even aware that she was the first female African American to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry.
Daly’s first job was as an instructor in physical science at Howard University from 1947 to 1948. She also worked on research projects with Dr. Herman R. Branson, a physicist and chemist who studied protein structure. Daly then went to the Rockefeller Institute of Medicine, now Rockefeller University, in New York City, where she was the only black scientist. She told CBB that this was the highlight of her career because of the interesting work she was doing at that time and because of the distinguished faculty with whom she worked. These notable scholars included Francis Peyton Rous, who won the Nobel Prize in 1966 for his discovery of a virus that caused sarcoma in chickens, and Leonor Michaelis, the co–inventor of a famous equation for studying the kinetics of enzymatic reactions. Daly worked at the Rockefeller Institute for seven years. She received a grant from the American Cancer Society and worked as a research assistant for Dr. Alfred Ezra Mirsky, a well–known biochemist and physiologist who is credited for being one of the first scientists to isolate messenger RNA in mammals. Mirsky and Daly studied how proteins are constructed within cells of the body. For example, Daly altered the protein metabolism in mice to study variations in the activity of cytoplasm, which plays an important part in the creation of proteins.
From 1955 to 1959 Daly was employed as a biochemist associate at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University, working primarily with Dr. Quentin B. Deming, who was studying the causes of heart attacks. According to Louise S. Grinstein, et al., in Women in Chemistry and Physics, “At Columbia University and at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine [at Yeshiva University in New York], Daly studied the metabolism of arterial walls with particular reference to changes that take place with aging, hypertension, and atherosclerosis,” which is the build–up of fats in the arteries. In particular, Daly experimented with hypertensive rats in order to show the relationship between high cholesterol levels and heart attacks. Later Daly studied the correlation between smoking and lung disease. She also did research on how the kidneys affect human metabolism. She was appointed as assistant professor of biochemistry at Columbia University from 1960 to 1961. In addition to her teaching position, Daly also worked as an investigator for the American Heart Association from 1958 until 1963.
In 1960 Daly continued her groundbreaking research with Dr. Quentin Deming, who was now at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University. Daly was an assistant professor of biochemistry and medicine at Yeshiva until she was promoted to associate professor in 1971. In addition to her research, Daly enjoyed teaching biochemistry courses to medical students. She was also active in recruiting minority students to study medicine and science. From 1962 until 1972 Daly held a concurrent position as a cancer scientist with the Health Research Council of New York. She was also a member of the board of governors of the New York Academy of Science from 1974 until 1976. Daly was active in a number of professional associations, including the American Chemical Society, the Harvey Society, the American Society of Biological Chemists, the American Heart Association, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women.
In 1986 Daly retired from Yeshiva University. From 1986 until 1989 she served on the Commission for Science and Technology of the City of New York. In 1988 Daly started a scholarship fund at Queens College in memory of her parents, for minority students studying physics or chemistry. Upon her retirement Daly and her husband, Vincent Clark, whom she married in 1961, moved to their vacation home in East Hampton. Daly told CBB that she had truly retired from academia at that time because she was so far from the city. Instead of research, Daly turned her attention to gardening, while her husband enjoyed boating. The couple began spending the winters in Sarasota, Florida, because of the milder climate, and eventually moved there permanently. Daly has enjoyed her retirement in Florida, but has kept in touch with friends and colleagues from New York.
Although Ivan Daly did not have the opportunity to achieve his dream of becoming a chemist, he was able to pass his ambition and talent on to his daughter. Unbeknownst to Daly, by pursuing her interest in science she became the first African–American woman to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry. She followed up this distinction with a career of cutting–edge research that has had important implications for the health sciences.
(Contributor) “Hypertension: A Precursor of Arteriosclerosis,” Hypertension: Mechanisms and Management, Grune & Stratton, 1973.
“A Study of the Products Formed by the Action of Pancreatic Amylase on Corn Starch,” Ph.D. Dissertation, Columbia University, 1947.
Bailey, Martha J., American Women in Science 1950 to the Present, ABC–CLIO, 2000.
Grinstein, Louise S., Rose K. Rose, and Miriam H. Rafailovich (editors), Women in Chemistry and Physics: A Bibliobiographic Sourcebook, Greenwood Press, 1993.
Kessler, James H., J. S. Kidd, Renee A. Kid, and Katherine A. Morin, Distinguished African American Scientists of the 20th Century, Oryx Press, 1996.
Notable Black American Scientists, Gale, 1998.
Oakes, Elizabeth H., International Encyclopedia of Women Scientists, Facts on File, 2002.
Warren, Wini. Black Women Scientists in the United States, Indiana University Press, 1999.
Journal of Chemical Education Online, http://www.jchemed.chem.wisc.edu/
Princeton University Faces of Science, http://www.princeton.edu/~mcbrown/display/daly.html
Aditional information for this profile was obtained through a personal interview with Contemporary Black Biography on October 16, 2002.
—Janet P. Stamatel
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