FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON, May 16, 2023 — In 1947, Marie Maynard Daly made history. The young Columbia University student became the first Black American woman to graduate with a Ph.D. in chemistry in the U.S. During her subsequent career, she published important research in biochemistry, the origins of some diseases and basic biological science. On May 19, the American Chemical Society (ACS) will honor Daly’s achievements with a National Historic Chemical Landmark designation ceremony at Columbia in New York City.
“This designation is particularly meaningful at a time when society as a whole is dealing with systemic racism and inequality,” says ACS President-Elect Mary K. Carroll, who will speak at the event. “ACS addresses these issues head on, in its stated goals, as well as its core values. The Society embraces and promotes diversity, not only to create a more inclusive environment for the practice of chemistry, but also to provide fair and just outcomes for all to achieve their full potential. And no one exemplifies this more than Dr. Daly.”
Born in Queens in 1921 to parents who encouraged her interest in academics, Daly went to Manhattan’s prestigious Hunter College High School for gifted girls. The school was unique because of its diversity and because its teachers focused on science, math, business and medicine.
After graduating from high school, Daly earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry at Queens College in 1942. However, she wanted to go further so she could do research. At the time, it was rare for women to be admitted to graduate school. Nevertheless, Daly persevered and was awarded her master’s degree at New York University in 1943.
Daly entered Columbia University as a graduate student in chemistry the following year. Most universities at this time had only male professors, but Daly joined the lab of Mary Letitia Caldwell, Columbia’s sole female faculty member in the department. Caldwell was a celebrated researcher doing cutting-edge work on enzymes.
It took less than three years for Daly to complete her thesis. The work was not only a valuable contribution to understanding how enzymes break down food, but it also marked a historic turning point. The day Daly successfully defended her thesis, she became the first Black American woman to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry in the U.S.
After earning her doctorate in 1947, Daly landed a research position at Rockefeller University (then known as Rockefeller Institute) with Alfred Mirsky, one of the foremost geneticists of the day. Together they investigated the architecture of proteins, and Daly also partnered with other top Rockefeller researchers to make groundbreaking discoveries.
In 1955, Daly pivoted to medical research when she joined the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. Her team found important links among atherosclerosis, aging and high blood pressure. Daly formed a close partnership with Quentin Deming, a medical doctor and heart disease researcher.
The two continued their fruitful collaboration when they took their skills to the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 1960. Daly was hired as an assistant professor of biochemistry and was later awarded an associate professorship and tenure.
In 1975, Daly and Deming did ground-breaking research on the impact of diet and cholesterol on arteries in rats. They showed that the majority of those with a history of hypertension had an increased risk of experiencing a heart attack. Throughout her career, Daly collaborated with other researchers on many other topics, including the effects of smoking on lung health.
While there are no known first-hand accounts by Daly concerning the racism and sexism she likely faced, it is clear that she took an active role in helping others. To bolster diversity at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Daly spearheaded an effort to recruit, train and support Black students. She also established a scholarship fund for Black science students at Queens College.
Daly passed away on Oct. 28, 2003, at the age of 82.
This is the second ACS Landmark designation at Columbia. The first was awarded for the pioneering chemistry research conducted at the university’s Havemeyer Hall.
The American Chemical Society (ACS) is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. ACS’ mission is to advance the broader chemistry enterprise and its practitioners for the benefit of Earth and all its people. The Society is a global leader in promoting excellence in science education and providing access to chemistry-related information and research through its multiple research solutions, peer-reviewed journals, scientific conferences, eBooks and weekly news periodical Chemical & Engineering News. ACS journals are among the most cited, most trusted and most read within the scientific literature; however, ACS itself does not conduct chemical research. As a leader in scientific information solutions, its CAS division partners with global innovators to accelerate breakthroughs by curating, connecting and analyzing the world’s scientific knowledge. ACS’ main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.
ACS established the National Historic Chemical Landmarks program in 1992 to recognize seminal events in the history of chemistry and to increase awareness of the contributions of chemistry to society. Past Landmarks include the invention of Polaroid instant photography, the discovery and production of penicillin, the invention of synthetic plastics, and the works of such notable scientific figures as educator George Washington Carver and environmentalist Rachel Carson. For more information, visit www.acs.org/landmarks.
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Note: ACS does not conduct research, but publishes and publicizes peer-reviewed scientific studies.