As I scrolled through my Instagram feed, I stumbled upon a moment in time that left me awe-struck: the unsung heroes of our scientific world. In this post, I learned about the contributions of African American women who have undoubtedly shaped our world yet have not received the proper acknowledgement they deserve. Why have their influential fingerprints been overlooked? In spite of the gender and racial oppression these brave women have painstakingly endured, their stellar contributions continue to stand the test of time.
For starters, I would like to address a crucial challenge that our world continues to grapple with- the fight against gender discrimination. The transformative world of science predominantly teaches us about the achievements of white men and their everlasting impact and revolutionary discoveries, while we rarely hear about the similar accolades of women, specifically women of color. Their triumphant stories and novel discoveries are left out of science textbooks and medical journals; they are left only with an occasional appearance in an obscure footnote. As a result, their historical accolades are essentially being written by white men idolizing white men. Devoid of fame and public recognition, women rarely dominate the storyline, rendering an outdated tale where white men set out to make scientific history as they strut their self proclaimed efforts for all to witness. Sadly, behind every leap and discovery lies a multitude of budding female scientists who do their part to break the code.
In spite of gender and racial oppression that African American female scientists have painstakingly endured, their stellar contributions continue to stand the test of time. However, over the ensuing years, the work of only a select few unsung heroes has finally been highlighted. This recurring theme of gender inequality needs to change as we reveal the hidden truth to the innovative discoveries that we have all come to know and appreciate. For starters, Professor Wangari Maathai was the first African woman to win the Nobel Prize as a result of her sustainable development campaign that planted over 30 million trees. In the world of applied mathematics, Dr. Gladys West analyzed satellite data and created a detailed model of the Earth’s Surface that was a key contribution to GPS technology. Katherine Johnson was a mathematician at NASA who calculated and guided the flight path of the first American spacecraft reaching the moon. Moreover, African American women have continuously impacted the medical field as Alice Augusta Ball invented the “Ball Method”: the first effective treatment for Leprosy. Dr. Marie Maynard Daly was the first black woman in the US to earn a PhD in Chemistry, who used her progressive scientific knowledge to uncover the missing link between cholesterol levels and cardiovascular disease. With these impressive achievements in hand, it is high time that we recognize how these powerful women collectively personify the oppressed and serve as a painful reminder that we need to speak up for this silenced group.
Today, we must actively recognize the herculean efforts set forth by this marginalized community, who have fearlessly paved the way for a new generation of scientific warriors to bravely follow suit. Today, empowered women dominate high powered industries across all walks of life. Not only will our newfound remembrance offer these fierce and brilliant women the notable recognition they deserve, but it will allow us to use their personal accounts as treasured lessons that inspire young women to join in. As an aspiring woman in STEM myself, these women have truly paved a path for my future endeavors. With these impressive scientific leaders at the forefront, we must call our meaningful conversation to action and finally shed light on the groundbreaking work of these noble women.
I have linked additional resources that dive more in-depth about each one of these remarkable individuals’ achievements so that you too can learn about their everlasting mark on the scientific world.