The First Ph. D in Natural Sciences In The United States

The First Ph. D in Natural Sciences In The United States

Written on 05/29/2019

Born in the Corona neighborhood of Queens, New York, Marie Maynard Daly was an avid reader and was fascinated by Paul De Kruif’s popular book The Microbe Hunters. She was further inspired by her father’s love of science. Unfortunately, he had been forced by economic circumstances to drop out of Cornell University, where he had been pursuing a bachelor’s degree in chemistry.

Daly quickly received her B.S. and M.S. in chemistry at Queens College and New Your University. Daly then enrolled into the doctoral program at Columbia University after working for a year tutoring chemistry students at Queens College. She also obtained funding from the university to help in her full-time study of chemistry. Under the direction of Mary L. Caldwell, who was known for her work on the important digestive enzyme amylase, Daly researched how compounds produced in the body affect and participate in digestion. The title of her dissertation was “A Study of the Products Formed by the Action of Pancreatic Amylase on Corn Starch.” She was awarded her doctoral degree in 1947, only three years after enrolling in the program, and was the first African American woman to obtain a Ph.D. in chemistry in the United States.

After completing her doctoral degree Daly taught for two years at Howard University in Washington, DC. On receiving a grant from the American Cancer Society to support her postdoctoral research, she joined Alfred E. Mirsky, a pioneer in molecular biology, at the Rockefeller Institute in New York, where for seven years she worked on the composition and metabolism of components of the cell nucleus, among other studies. Then Daly took a new position teaching biochemistry at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University and in 1960 she became a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, where she remained until her retirement in 1986.

In addition to her research, Daly was committed to developing programs to increase the enrollment of minority students in medical school and graduate science programs. In 1988 she established a scholarship fund for African American science students at Queens College in honor of her father.


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