50 Black Women in STEM You Should Know About

Natasha Matta
Rediscover STEAM
Published in
55 min readFeb 19, 2021

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is one of the fastest-growing fields, but it is underscored by racial and gender disparities. According to the National Science Foundation, black women make up about 6.5% of the United States’ population but only 2% of the STEM workforce.

A study by the University of Illinois found that racial microaggressions and a lack of representation of people of color discourage minority students from pursuing STEM majors and thus, perpetuate the racial disparities we see in STEM education programs and later the workforce. Data from more than 4,800 students revealed that Black students in STEM majors were more likely to experience racial microaggressions than any other students of color, and Black women reported the highest rates of these prejudices.

“If you want more Black women in STEM, we need more Black women in STEM,” India Johnson, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Butler University, said. “The very problem is the solution.”

Representation matters. To celebrate Black History Month, we are highlighting the stories of 50 inspirational Black women in STEM who broke the glass ceiling, paved the way for generations of women of color to come, and made an indelible impact on our society today!

1. Mae Jemison

Mae Carol Jemison studied chemical engineering and Afro-American studies at Stanford University on a National Achievement Scholarship at age 16, and then, she went on to attend Cornell University Medical College. After graduation, she worked as a general practitioner and a Peace Corps medical officer for Sierra Leone and Liberia. She returned to the United States and was selected as one of 15 candidates from a 2,000 applicant pool to NASA’s astronaut training program, becoming the first African American woman to be admitted. She trained for a year to become a science mission specialist and flew into space on September 12, 1992, aboard the Endeavour (mission STS47). She spent eight days in space, orbiting the Earth 127 times, and conducted experiments on weightlessness and motion sickness. Mae C. Jemison made history as the first African American woman in space.

“Never limit yourself because of others’ limited imagination; never limit others because of your own limited imagination.” — Mae C. Jemison

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2. Annie Easley

Annie J. Easley originally studied pharmacy before she stumbled upon a newspaper article detailing the work of the “human computer” twin sisters at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), modern-day NASA, and applied for a job as a mathematician and computer engineer there. During her 34-year career, she worked on many projects and technologies that laid the groundwork for today’s spaceflight and exploration. At NACA, she faced discrimination: her male colleagues had their undergraduate tuition paid for when she had to finance her education on her own, and her face was deliberately cut out of pictures. However, Easley was truly a force to be reckoned with. She persevered, worked harder, and evolved alongside technology, learning how to code with languages such as SOAP and returning to school to complete a mathematics degree while working full time at NASA.

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3. Alice Ball

Alice Augusta Ball earned her Bachelor’s Degree in pharmaceutical chemistry and pharmacy from the University of Washington and went on to receive her Master’s Degree in chemistry from the University of Hawaii. She became both the first African American and the first woman to graduate from the University of Hawaii with a Master’s Degree and then became the first African American and first female chemistry professor at the school. She developed the novel ‘Ball Method’ to treat leprosy, where she made chaulmoogra oil used to treat the condition into an ester ethyl form that was injectable and water-soluble to dissolve in the blood. Her research was so successful that over 8,000 leprosy patients could be discharged from hospitals and isolation facilities to return to their families. Unfortunately, Ball died at the young age of 24 in a lab teaching accident, and she did not get to see the full impact of her discovery, which saved lives for years to come.

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4. Phyllis Bolds

Phyllis Bolds showed great intelligence, talent, and determination from a young age, becoming the inaugural recipient of the Delta Sigma Theta Debutante Scholarship during her time studying physics at Central State College. She then began working at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base before climbing the ranks to work on data accumulation for new aircrafts, including the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit, Douglas C-133 Cargomaster, and McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle. Bolds studied how to mitigate the adversarial effects of military aircrafts, aeroacoustic environments, and spectra of helicopter vibration frequencies, and she ultimately debunked the false Helicopter Vibration Test Curve “M,” preventing future helicopter malfunctions. The Air Force bestowed her with the Air Force Systems Command Certificate of Merit for her 30 years of service and credited her with the enhancement of the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit “stealth” bomber. Phyllis Bolds prevailed as one of the U.S. Air Force’s most instrumental physicists in revolutionizing and reforming deficiencies within the United States’ most intensively invested sector — its military apparatus.

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5. Angella Dorothea Ferguson

Angella Dorothea Ferguson studied biology at Howard University then went straight into medical school there and studied pediatrics. She later joined the Howard University School of Medicine faculty as a researcher. Part of her initial research involved comprehending the typical development of African American children, yet surprisingly, no such baseline data existed. With further study, Ferguson noticed a high percentage of African American children suffered from sickle cell anemia. In sickle cell anemia, red platelets become deformed (sickled) and die early, leaving a deficiency of healthy red blood cells. Additionally, buildups of sickled cells can block blood flow, posing a great danger to the patient’s health. She performed groundbreaking research on the development of sickle cell disease in African American newborn children and invented a blood test that can detect the disease at birth. The test was put forth in forty states and facilitated the development of the clinical guidelines for both diagnosing and treating sickle cell anemia.

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6. Rebecca Cole

Rebecca Cole attended the New England Female Medical College and upon graduation, became the first formally trained black female doctor and second African American woman to earn an M.D. She then went on to receive a second medical degree from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1867 and worked at Elizabeth Blackwell’s Infirmary for Women and Children in New York. In 1873, she founded the Women’s Directory Center, which specialized in providing medical services to poor women and children directly in their homes. She was outspoken and challenged racial discrimination in housing practices and healthcare and medicine. Cole joined other Black women activists in Washington, D.C. to organize the National Association of Colored Women in Washington. She passed away on August 14, 1922, but her legacy lives on through her compassion towards her community and bravery in shedding light on structural inequality in the health field.

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7. Evelyn Boyd Granville

Evelyn Body Granville enrolled at Smith College and grew passionate about mathematics, theoretical physics, and astronomy. During her summers, she would return to Washington, D.C. and work at the National Bureau of Standards as a technical aid, then a computer analyst, and lastly a mathematician. Granville earned a scholarship from the Smith Students’ Aid Society of Smith College to fund undertaking her doctorate and attended Yale University. She was awarded a predoctoral fellowship from the Atomic Energy Commission and graduated with her Ph.D. in mathematics in 1956, making her the second African American woman to receive a Ph.D. from an American university. Boyd then worked on missile fuses at the National Bureau of Standards, wrote software for the IBM 650 computer, calculated space trajectories at the Computation and Data Reduction Center of Space Technology Laboratories, worked on celestial mechanics, trajectory, and orbit computation as a research specialist for the North America Aviation Company. 1967 marked a turning point for Granville: she divorced her husband, left NASA for academia, and continued to teach until her retirement in 1997. She continues to advocate for minorities in the STEAM fields and emphasizes the power of education.

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8. Geraldine Pittman Woods

Geraldine Pittman Woods discovered her passion for the sciences at Howard University then went on to Radcliffe College and Harvard University’s partnership program to obtain a Masters of Science in 1943 and a Ph.D. in neuroembryology in 1945. She then served a four-years on the Personnel Board of the California Department of Employment in 1963 and became a member of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) and the Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Woods was also the first African American assigned to the National Advisory General Medical Services (NAGMS) Council, where much of her work was focused on developing research and other STEM-related programs for people of color. Geraldine Pittman Woods passed away on December 27, 1999, but left a remarkable legacy and facilitated opportunities for students of color to pursue STEM for years to come.

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9. Gladys West

Gladys West graduated from her high school as valedictorian and received a scholarship to Virginia State University, where she earned her Bachelor’s Degree in mathematics. After graduation, she found work at the naval base in Dahlgren, known as the ‘Naval Proving Ground,’ and was only the second African-American woman hired there and one of four Black employees. There she served as the project manager on arguably her most impactful project: the Seasat project, the basis for today’s GPS. West collected information from the satellites orbiting the Earth, inputted the data into enormous “supercomputers” that filled entire rooms, and developed software that could process geoid heights or precise surface elevations when modeling the Earth. However, her role in shaping modern GPS only came to the forefront decades later. West was inducted into the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Hall of Fame during a ceremony in her honor at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

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10. Bessie Blount Griffin

Bessie Blount Griffin was a woman of many talents: serving as a nurse, physical therapist, inventor, and forensic handwriting and document analyst throughout her life. She studied nursing at Kenney Memorial Hospital in Newark, New Jersey then physical therapy at Union Junior College, now Union County College, and Panzer College of Physical Education and Hygiene, now part of Montclair State University. Griffin became a licensed physiotherapist and took a job at Bronx Hospital, now Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center. Many of her patients were World War II veterans who had to have their arms amputated, so she taught them to write with their teeth and feet instead. Blount then spent 10 months designing and developing what she called the “invalid feeder” or a way for patients to eat without using their hands, which she later patented. She also designed a kidney-shaped vomit basin out of papier-mâché, and similar containers are used in hospitals today. Blount then turned her sights on forensics, becoming a handwriting analyst and detecting forged documents for the police departments in New Jersey and Virginia. Back home, she served as a consultant and examined the evidence in court cases. In 2008, she began building a museum and library in her hometown but never had the opportunity to finish it. She passed away the next year, on December 30, 2009, at age 95.

11. Marie Van Brittan Brown

Because of the high crime rate in her neighborhood in Queens, New York, nurse Marie Van Brittan Brown invented the first home security system to protect her and her family. The security system included three peepholes at different heights, a camera, monitors, a two-way microphone to speak to the person outside, remote control to open the door if it was safe, and an alarm button to contact the police directly. Marie and Albert Brown, her husband and an electronic technician, filed for a patent for the “Home Security System utilizing Television Surveillance” in August 1966, and it was approved shortly after. The invention served as the foundation for today’s security systems and earned her an award from the National Scientists Committee and an interview with The New York Times.

Marie Van Brittan Brown’s home security system schematic

12. Alexa Canady

Dr. Alexa Irene Canady made history when she became the first African-American woman neurosurgeon in the United States in 1981. She studied zoology at the University of Michigan and graduated with her degree in 1971 then attended a summer program in genetics for minority students, which sparked her passion for medicine. Canady went on to graduate cum laude from the University of Michigan’s College of Medicine. She originally wanted to pursue internal medicine but fell in love with neurosurgery during her first two years of medical school. Although advisors and peers discouraged her from pursuing the field, she was determined and earned a surgical internship at Yale-New Haven Hospital in 1975. A year later, she began her residency in neurosurgery at the University of Minnesota, which she finished in 1981. Then, she completed a fellowship in pediatric neurosurgery at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia before returning to Michigan and joining Henry Ford Hospital’s Neurosurgery Department. Canady climbed the ranks and became the Chief of Neurosurgery at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan, caring for patients with gunshot wounds, head trauma, brain tumors, and spine abnormalities. She retired in 2001 but soon went back to work as a pediatric neurosurgeon at Pensacola’s Sacred Heart Hospital as there were no doctors in that specialty in the area. Canady also holds a U.S. patent for a programmable shunt to treat hydrocephalus, a condition where fluid builds up inside the brain. Today, she continues to advocate for young women and minority students to pursue careers in medicine.

13. Lyda Newman

Lyda D. Newman was an inventor and outspoken advocate for women’s suffrage. She designed and patented a novel design for a hairbrush when she was just 13 years old, becoming the third black woman ever to receive a patent. The brush was made specifically for African American hair and used stronger, longer-lasting synthetic bristles, instead of animal hair commonly used at the time. Synthetic bristles could comb through thicker hair more easily and be detached and reattached, allowing for faster cleaning. There was also a compartment to collect fallen dandruff and debris and an air chamber for the brush to dry quickly. Overall, the hairbrush was cheaper and easier to manufacture than other alternatives and worked well on different hair types and thicknesses.

Later on, Newman became involved in the women’s suffrage movement: she helped organize an African American branch of the Woman Suffrage Party and campaigned in New York for voting awareness and civic engagement.

14. Ruth Ella Moore

Dr. Ruth Ella Moore became the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in the natural sciences in the United States in 1933. She earned her Bachelor’s, Master’s, and later Ph.D. in bacteriology from Ohio State University. Published in two parts: Studies on Dissociation of Mycobacterium tuberculosis and A New Method of Concentration of the Tubercle Bacilli as Applied to Sputum and Urine Examination, her dissertation tackled tuberculosis, the second leading cause of death at the time. She joined Howard University’s Medical College faculty in 1940 as an assistant professor before promotion to an associate professor then the chair of the bacteriology department. Throughout her career, Moore earned many awards and honors, including prestigious positions at the American Association of Science, the American Society of Immunology, and the American Society of Microbiology.

15. Inez Beverly Prosser

Dr. Inez Beverly Prosser was born in a small town in Texas in 1897 and educated in “colored schools.” She studied at Prairie View A & M University and Samuel Huston College, earned her Master’s Degree at the University of Colorado, and her doctorate in psychology from the University of Cincinnati in 1993, becoming the United States’ first Black woman psychologist. This feat earned her a place on the front cover of the NAACP’s magazine The Crisis in August 1933.

However, her dissertation entitled The Non-Academic Development of Negro Children in Mixed and Segregated Schools was controversial and garnered much attention given the social climate of the time. Prosser had a passion for education, teaching at an elementary school and middle school in Austin, Texas, working at Tougaloo College, and serving as dean and registrar at Tillotson College. Tragically, she passed away in a car accident in 1934, but her legacy as the first African American woman psychologist and a determined educator lives on today.

16. Evelyn Nicol

Evelyn Carmon Nicol majored in chemistry and mathematics and graduated at the top of her class from Tuskegee University then joined the Carver Research Foundation. She worked as a research assistant, producing Henrietta Lacks HeLa cell lines to develop polio vaccines. During her tenure, Nicol became the first to successfully isolate the Herpes Zoster virus, also known as shingles. In 1956, she joined the Rand Development Corporation, where she isolated the leukemia agent and worked at the University of Kansas Medical Center and Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago. Nicol then joined Abbott Laboratories as a research assistant in the Pathology department and was promoted to Molecular Biologist II.

In 1976, she patented a new way to produce urokinase, an enzyme traditionally produced only in the kidney, to reduce and prevent blood clots. At Abbott Labs, she developed a Toxoplasma gondii screening test that decerned if pregnant women had been exposed to a dangerous parasite. In 1985, she became the Senior Scientist at Baxter Pharmaceuticals, leading a team that developed diagnostic tests for blood-borne diseases including the T-cell lymphotropic virus (HTLV-1) and HIV. Nicol advocated for fair hiring practices and encouraged underrepresented groups to join the company. She passed away from COVID-19 complications on May 27, 2020, leaving behind an incredible legacy in immunology and opening the door for underrepresented groups in STEM.

17. Claudia Alexander

Claudia Alexander served as a project scientist for two prestigious missions: Rosetta, an ESA mission with probe orbiting Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and Galileo, studying Jupiter and its moons. She became the youngest-ever appointed project scientist for the Galileo mission at the age of 40 in 2000. Alexander originally wanted to be a journalist but landed an internship at the NASA Ames Research Center and fell in love with space and planetary science. She switched to a degree in geophysics and continued her education at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Michigan before joining NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Alexander is one of just 89 African American women to earn a Ph.D. in physics, astronomy, and related fields in the United States and is encouraging children to learn about STEM through her science fiction books and stories.

18. Patricia Cowings

Dr. Patricia Cowings is an aerospace psychophysiologist for NASA and the first African American woman to receive scientist astronaut training. She earned her doctorate in psychology from the University of California, Davis, in 1973 and has worked at NASA since 1971. Her career started with a fellowship in NASA’s Graduate Research Science Program before she climbed the ranks to a research scientist at NASA Ames Research Center in the Human Systems Integration Division and Principal Investigator of the Psychophysiological Research Laboratory. She is best known for developing and patenting the autogenic-feedback training exercise (AFTE), a treatment for motion sickness in space. AFTE teaches people to control up to 24 physiological responses, including breathing, heart rate, skin conductance, sweating, muscle reactivity, and blood pressure, to combat motion sickness and improve performance under stress. Cowings has also served as the principal investigator on three Space Shuttle Flight experiments and primary American collaborator in an experiment flown aboard the Russian Mir Space Station, and she developed and tested a crew-worn physiological monitoring system also used by the military. Her current work involves the Human Health Countermeasures Element, dealing with spatial disorientation and motion sickness during spacecraft re-entry and departure.

19. Ashanti Johnson

Dr. Ashanti Johnson is a geochemist and one of the first African American woman chemical oceanographers in history. She earned her Bachelor’s in Marine Science from Texas A&M University, Galveston in 1993 then her Ph.D. in Oceonagropy from Texas A&M University in 1999, becoming the first African American to earn a doctoral degree in oceanography from the school. Johnson now conducts environmental aquatic radiogeochemistry research on the use of biogeochemical indicators to understand past events that affected marine, estuarine, and freshwater environments in the Arctic and coastal regions of Georgia, Florida, and Puerto Rico. She is passionate about bringing diversity to the STEM fields and empowering young scientists, working with the Minorities Striving and Pursuing Higher Degrees of Success in Earth System Science (MS PHDS) Professional Development Mentoring Institute and founding the Cirrus Academy, a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) charter school system across Georgia. In 2010, she was awarded the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering.

20. Dorothy Lavinia Brown

Dr. Dorothy Lavinia Brown was a woman of many firsts: the first African American woman surgeon in the South, the first African American woman to serve in the Tennessee state legislature, and the first single woman in Tennessee to be granted the right to become an adoptive parent. Brown had a difficult life growing up, given up to an orphanage by her mother before running away and entering the foster care system. In 1937, she graduated at the top of her class from Troy High School and earned a four-year scholarship to Bennett College, where she graduated second in her class. She became an inspector for the Rochester Army Ordinance Department before returning to school and enrolling at Meharry Medical College. Brown graduated in 1948, interned at Harlem Hospital, and began her five-year surgical residency at Meharry and George W. Hubbard Hospital. She became an Assistant Professor of Surgery in 1955, the first African American woman to be named a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, and Chief of Surgery at Nashville’s Riverside Hospital from 1957 to 1983. Her other hats included a Clinical Professor of Surgery at Meharry Medical College, Educational Director of the Riverside-Meharry Clinical Rotation Program, and Consultant on health, education, and welfare of the NIH’s National Advisory Council on Heart, Lung, and Blood. For her hard work and determination, she earned honors, such as the naming of the Dorothy L. Brown Women’s Residence at Meharry College in 1970, the humanitarian award from the Carnegie Foundation in 1993, and the Horatio Alger Award in 1994.

21. Mary Mahoney

Mary Eliza Mahoney made history as the first professionally trained African American nurse in 1879. She enrolled at the nursing school of the New England Hospital for Women and Children, rotating through different wards in the hospital or practicing at patients’ houses, attending daylong classes and lectures, and enduring 16-hour workdays. Only four of the 42 students in the program persisted and managed to graduate. She worked mainly in the private duty nursing sphere during her career because of racial prejudices in public nursing. In 1896, she joined the Nurses Associated Alumnae of the United States and Canada, later known as the American Nurses Association (ANA), but it mostly consisted of white Nurses. Mahoney was elected chaplain and awarded a lifetime membership to the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN) and spoke about the racial inequalities in nursing education. She encouraged women of color to go into the field, and the number of African Nurses doubled from 1910 to 1930. Mahoney was also a proponent of women’s suffrage and was unsurprisingly one of the first women to register to vote in 1920.

22. Aprille Ericsson-Jackson

Dr. Aprille Ericsson-Jackson grew up in a poor neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York and with drive and persistence, made a name for herself at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. She earned her Bachelor’s of Science in aeronautical and astronautical engineering then became the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Howard University and the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from NASA GSFC. Then, she began at NASA as an aerospace engineer in the Robotic Group then transferred to Guidance Navigation & Control, working on satellite design. She was also a key player in NASA’s Tropical Rain Measuring Mission, Wilkerson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, ST8 Miniature Thermal Loop Heat Pipe, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, and ICESat-2 Atlas (Ice, Cloud, & Land Elevation Satellite) and now serves as an Instrument Manager for the GSFC. Dr. Ericsson-Jackson is an avid advocate for women in STEM, serving with the GSFC’s Speakers Bureau and the Women Group, mentoring students in aerospace, rocket, and mechanical engineering, and speaking at the White House, Women in Engineering Conference in South Africa, Oprah Winfrey’s Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa, and USA Science & Engineering Festival. For her work, she was named a Top 50 Minority Women in Science and Engineering by the National Technical Association, earned NASA Goddard Honor Award, elected to the Howard University Board of Trustees in 2004, and received a Science Trailblazers award from the Black Engineers of the Year Award Conference.

23. Nola Hylton

Dr. Nola Hylton is a pioneer in breast cancer research and a diversity and inclusion advocate. She earned her Bachelor’s in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1979, served as an undergraduate fellow at Bell Labs in 1975, and received her doctorate in applied physics from Stanford University in 1985. At Stanford, she developed analytical techniques for mammography and MRI technology to detect and diagnose breast cancer and lead the working group on Breast MRI Systems. Dr. Hylton was appointed to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s Scientific Advisory Council, served as co-leader for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Women’s Health International Group, addressing barriers to clinical dissemination of breast MRI, and was the principal investigator of the NCI International Breast MRI Consortium clinical trial. Today, she is a Professor in Residence for the Department of Radiology, Leader of the Breast Imaging Research Group, Diversity and Inclusion Committee Member at the University of California, San Francisco, and educator in the UCSF/UCB Bioengineering Graduate Program and UCSF Master’s in Biomedical Imaging Degree Program.

24. Jessica Watkins

Jessica Watkins joined NASA’s Astronaut Candidate Class in 2017 and reported for duty by August of that year. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in geological and environmental sciences from Stanford University and her Doctorate in geology from the University of California, Los Angeles. Watkins has since worked at NASA’s Ames Research Center, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and was part of the team that worked on NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Rover: Curiosity. Before becoming an astronaut, she researched the geological aspects of Mars, using mapping and data analysis to investigate landslides and studying Mars soil with the Pheonix Mars Lander mission. Watkins also worked on the daily planning of Mars rover activities and analyzed properties of near-earth asteroids. Currently, she is awaiting a flight assignment while continuing her work gathering and studying soil samples from Mars to better understand its geological landscape and environment.

25. Susan McKinney-Steward

Susan Smith McKinney-Steward graduated as valedictorian from the New York Medical College for Women in 1870, just 5 years after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery. She became the first African American woman to earn a medical degree in New York and the third in the United States. McKinney-Steward then established a private practice, which she ran from 1870 to 1895. She also co-founded the Brooklyn Women’s Homeopathic Hospital and Dispensary, completed her post-graduate education at the Long Island Medical College Hospital in Brooklyn from 1887 to 1888, served as a board member and practiced at the Brooklyn Home for Aged Colored People from 1892 to 1895, and finally returned to the New York Medical College and Hospital for Women in Manhattan from 1892 to 1896. McKinney-Steward made strides in prenatal care, treating pregnant women, and childhood disease and joined the women’s suffrage and temperance movements.

26. Yvonne Clark

Yvonne Clark was the first woman to earn a degree in mechanical engineering from Howard University, and she was the only woman in her class, sharing that it was tough for her as “the engineering job market wasn’t very receptive to women, particularly women of colour.” Clark then became the first African American student to earn a Master’s Degree in Engineering Management from Vanderbilt University and started her first job was at the Frankford Arsenal Gauge Lab, a U.S. Army ammunition plant researching recoilless weapons before becoming a factory equipment designer at RCA Camden. Wanting to inspire the next generation of women mechanical engineers, Clark helped found Tennessee State’s chapter of Pi Tau Sigma to encourage girls to enter the field. By 1997, 25% of the students in her department were female. She also pioneered projects at NASA: designing containers for Neil Armstrong to bring back moon samples, investigating Saturn V engines for hot spots, and modernizing Refrigerant and Heat Pumps mechanics.

27. Francisca Nneka Okeke

Francisca Nneka Okeke earned a Bachelor of Science in Physics (1980), a Masters of Science in science education (1985), a Masters of Science in Applied Earth Geophysics (1989), and a Ph.D. in Ionospheric Geophysics (1995), all from the University of Nigeria. Nigeria is a major hub for petroleum production and other industrial activities in West Africa, so her research is vital in understanding the country’s climate conditions. To date, she has published over 100 papers in several prestigious global journals and has written 20 articles and 15 books. Okeke’s remarkable accomplishments in physics earned her the L’Oreal-UNESCO for Women in Science Award, and her proudest moment was when she became the first female head of the Physics and Astronomy Department at the University of Nigeria in 2003. Professor Francisca Nneka Okeke continues to advocate for resources and support for women at all levels in the STEM pipeline.

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28. Stephanie Wilson

Stephanie Wilson is an African American aerospace engineer and a NASA astronaut. She is the second black woman to embark on a space mission and has been on three so far. Wilson spent 42 days in space on one of these missions, setting a new record for the longest time any African American person has been in space for. She knew she wanted to pursue a career in aeronautics since a young age and earned her bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering at Harvard University. Wilson then worked as a Dynamics Engineer and part of the Integrated Modeling team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. During her time at the JPL, she finished her master’s degree and conducted research modeling space structures. In 1996, NASA selected Wilson as an astronaut candidate. She has been on 3 space missions since: STS-121 (2006), STS-120 (2007), and STS-2020 as a mission specialist, where she focused on the maintenance of space stations and delivering of supplies. On October 19, 2019, Wilson served as ground control at Houston for the first all-women spacewalk, and she was recently named as one of 18 astronauts to train for NASA’s Artemis mission to the moon.

29. Valerie Thomas

Valerie Thomas was interested in science and technology from a young age, watching her father tinker with the television. However, her parents did not support her ambitions, and studying at an all-girls school made pursuing the career path the more difficult for her. With the support of her teachers, Thomas landed a spot at Morgan State University with a major in Physics as one of the two women studying the subject that year. She excelled in all of her maths and science classes despite the disadvantages of her upbringing and after graduation, began working at NASA as a data analyst. Thomas developed real-time computer data systems to support satellite operations control centers, and after visiting an exhibition where she saw a lightbulb still shining out of its socket, she was inspired to apply this principle to her work at NASA and create the illusion transmitter, which she is most famous for today. The illusion transmitter produces optical illusion images using two concave mirrors and can be applied to surgery, television, and video screens. Through hard work and determination, Thomas worked her way up to Chief of the Space Science Data Operations Office at NASA and earned the Goddard Space Flight Center Award of Merit and NASA Equal Opportunity Medal.

30. Beth A. Brown

Beth A. Brown was an African American astrophysicist and the first black woman to receive a Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of Michigan. She became fascinated with space growing up, observing the Ring Nebula on a field trip to an observatory and watching movies, such as Star Wars and Star Trek. Brown went on to study astrophysics at Howard University and graduated summa cum laude in 1991. During her summers, she interned at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and learned her near-sighted vision and claustrophobia discounted her dreams of becoming an astronaut. Brown then enrolled at the University of Michigan and earned her Master’s and doctorate in Astronomy, completing her thesis on elliptical galaxies. After graduation, she returned to the GSFC as a Research Associate on NASA’s National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council (NAS/NRC) and continued her thesis work studying X-ray emission from galaxies. She became an Astrophycisit Fellow in NASA Administrator’s Fellowship Program (NAFP), Visiting Assistant Professor at Howard University, Astrophysicist at Goddard’s National Space Science Data Center (NSSDC), and Assistant Director for Science Communications and Higher Education in the Science and Exploration Directorate at the GSFC. Empowering women of color to pursue STEM was a cause close to Brown’s heart, and she mentored young women through initiatives, such as the National Society of Black Physicists.

31. Dorothy Vaughan

In 1943, during World War II, Dorothy Vaughan left her job as a math teacher and joined the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory at NACA, now known as NASA. In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802, which prohibits racial, religious, and ethnic discrimination in the country’s defense industry, into law. However, people of color faced segregation from white counterparts and worked 24-hour shifts. Vaughan worked in the segregated West Area Computing Unit, a group of black women mathematicians, including Eunice Smith, Katherine Johnson, Kathyrn Peddew, and Mary Jackson. They had separate dining halls and bathroom facilities from the white employees, but the group persevered and took Langley by storm with their impressive research contributions. In 1949, Vaughan was promoted to the lead of the unit, making her NACA’s first black supervisor, one of its few female supervisors, and the first African American employee to receive a promotion at NACA. She advocated for the women of West Computing, calling out mistreatment and discrimination and fighting for promotions and pay raises, and led the group for nearly 10 years. In 1958, NACA began its transition to the NASA we know today, and segregated offices like West Computing were eliminated. Vaughan joined the Analysis and Computation Division (ACD), where she calculated flight paths, learned to program in FORTRAN, and worked on the Scout Launch Vehicle Program before retiring from NASA in 1971, leaving an incredible legacy.

32. Aisha Bowe

Ignoring the advice of guidance counselors to become a cosmetologist, she transferred from community college and earned her Bachelor’s in aerospace engineering and Master’s in Space Systems Engineering from the University of Michigan. After graduation, Bowe joined NASA as a Rocket Scientist and Mission Engineer and received the National Society of Black Engineers award for Outstanding Technical Contribution for her work. She served as the liaison to the Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) program, visited and spoke at local schools, and began a shadow day to introduce students to the world of engineering and give them a tour of NASA facilities. With the mission to increase black representation in STEM, Bowe founded STEMBoard, an innovative tech company taking on multi-million defense contracts and federal and private clients, such as the Department of Defense, and solving the leading problems in the defense and intelligence sector. A portion of STEMBoard’s profits also funds STEM education programs for underrepresented students. Every year, her team travels to the Bahamas to teach hundreds of students about STEM and saw firsthand the lack of basic hardware that the students there had access to. She created Lingo, a collection of self-paced building kits, to bring STEM education to students across the world regardless of socioeconomic status. For her technical work and diversity and inclusion initiatives, Bowe earned the 2015 U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce “Emerging Star” Award, NASA’s Engineering Honor Award, Silicon Valley’s National Coalition of 100 Black Women’s Women in Technology of the Year Award, and The National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) 21st Century Trailblazers in Aviation and Aerodynamics Award, and she is a member of the prestigious National Society of Black Engineers and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

33. Mamie Phipps Clark

Mamie Phipps Clark studied psychology at Howard University and graduated graduating magna cum laude in 1938. During the summer, she worked as a secretary for the law office of Charles Hamilton Houston, an NAACP lawyer involved in racial segregation court cases. In the fall, she returned to Howard and began her master’s thesis “The Development of Consciousness of Self in Negro Pre-School Children,” where she surveyed 150 black preschool boys and girls from a nursery school in Washington D.C. and studied their racial self-identification. She and her husband and fellow psychologist, Kenneth Clark, received funding from the Julius Rosenwald Fellowship Program for their research into racial identity in children. She went on to pursue her doctorate from Columbia University and studied under professor Henry Garret, a known racist and eugenicist, for the “challenge.” Clark graduated in 1940, becoming the first black woman to earn her Ph.D. in Psychology from the university. Arguably her most impactful research was the Doll Test: 253 black children aged three to seven years old (134 from segregated schools and 119 from integrated ones) were shown four dolls: two with white skin and blonde hair, and two with brown skin and black hair. The students were asked to identify the race of the dolls and which one they preferred to play with. The majority of the black students preferred the white doll with blonde hair and described it with positive language, and they often discarded the doll with brown skin and black hair and described it with negative language. The Clarks concluded that black children formed their racial identity by the age of three and associated negative traits with it because of segregation and racial prejudice. The two psychologists testified in school segregation cases and were instrumental in the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954. However, Kenneth was in favor of segregation while Mammie supported integration, causing the pair to split. For her work in social psychology and civil rights, Mammie Phipps Clark earned the American Association of University Women Achievement Award, National Coalition of 100 Black Women’s Candace Award for Humanitarianism.

34. Joan Murrell Owens

Joan Murrell Owens was a passionate educator, advocate for underrepresented students, and marine biologist, specializing in the study of corals. She received degrees in fine arts, geology, and guidance counseling, making her an exceptionally well-rounded individual. Her interest in marine biology was sparked at a young age when her father took her family fishing. However, she was offered a scholarship to Fisk University, which did not offer the subject, so she studied art with a minor in psychology and maths instead. Owens went on to complete her Master’s degree in and guidance counseling with a focus in reading therapy at the University of Michigan. She then taught for two years at the University of Michigan’s Children’s Psychiatric Hospital before joining Howard University’s faculty, teaching remedial English. In the 1960s, she moved to Newton, Massachusetts and developed programs to teach English to disadvantaged students with the Institute for Services to Education, which served as a model for the Upward Bound program by the U.S. Department of Education. Owens returned to Washington, D.C. and studied at George Washington University with a major in geology and a minor in zoology, earning her Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Ph.D. Owens began work with the Smithsonian Institute, studying and classifying deep-sea button corals, and wrote her dissertation titled “Microstructural Changes in the Scleractinian Families Micrabaciidae and Fungiidae and their Taxonomic and Ecologic Implications.” She described a new genus Rhombopsammia and three new species R. niphada, R. squiresi, and Letepsammia franki, after her husband Frank. Owens served as a Professor of Geology then switched to the biology department at Howard University before retiring in 1995.

35. Mary Elliott Hill

Mary Elliott Hill was an analytical and organic chemist and one of the earliest known African American chemists. She earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Virginia State College for Negroes, now Virginia State University (VSU), in 1929. She then taught at VSU’s Laboratory High School, the Hampton Institute, Bennett College, Tennessee A & I State University, and Kentucky State University throughout her career. Hill also enrolled in graduate courses at the University of Pennsylvania during her summers and became the first African American woman to earn a master’s degree in chemistry in 1941. At KSU, she studied ultraviolet spectrophotometry and ketene synthesis, which can be used in plastic production. Hill began student chapters of the American Chemical Society at HBCUs and inspired many of her students to follow in her footsteps and become chemistry professors.

36. Christine Darden

In 1967, Christine Darden joined NASA’s Langley Research Center as a ‘human computer,’ solving complex math problems, crunching numbers for engineers, and writing new computer programs. She wanted to create the data not just analyze it, so after 8 years, she was promoted to an aerospace engineer. Darden returned to school at George Washington University to earn her Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, focusing on fluid mechanics, while still working full time. At NASA, she became the Deputy Program Manager of the Tu-144 Experiments Program, part of NASA’s High Speed Research Program, and was then appointed Director of the Aerospace Performing Center, becoming the first African American appointed to the highest rank at Langley Research Center. She performed groundbreaking research on sonic booms that begin to form when airplanes push air molecules out of its path when it flies, “[creating] an invisible, cone-shaped pressure field whose tip is on the aircraft’s nose and whose sides surround the plane. The cone moves with the plane and emits a series of pressure waves that travel at the speed of sound. As the plane speeds up, these waves get closer together. Should the plane exceed the speed of sound — dubbed Mach 1 — the waves coalesce into a potentially destructive shock wave called a sonic boom.” Her research laid the groundwork for experimental planes (X-planes) to create quieter, more eco-friendly, safer, and faster airplanes that travel faster than sound. For her incredible work with NASA, Darden received the Congressional Gold Medal, the United States’ highest honor for civilians.

37. Sophia B. Jones

Dr. Sophia Bethena Jones is the earliest known black Canadian-born woman to earn a medical degree, the first black woman to graduate from the University of Michigan’s Medical School, the first black faculty member at Spelman College, and the founder of the nursing program there. She went on to practice medicine across the United States: in St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Kansas City. Jones championed healthy equity in the post-Civil War era and in her article “Fifty Years of Negro Public Health,” famously wrote:

“It is not too much to expect victory for a race, which, in fifty years, has reduced its illiteracy from an estimated percentage of 95 to one of 33.3 as given by the census figures of 1910. Let the teaching of general elementary physiology, including sex physiology, and sanitation be placed on a rational basis in all colored schools and colleges, in the hands of men and women thoroughly trained and with full knowledge of the health problems named above, and there can be little doubt that the issue of the conflict will be such a rapidly declining death rate and reduced morbidity as will astonish the civilized world."

38. Marie Daly

Dr. Marie Daly was a biochemist and the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry in the United States. She made vital contributions in four areas of research: the chemistry of histones, protein synthesis, the relationships between cholesterol and hypertension, and creatine uptake by muscle cells. Daly wanted to carry on her father’s legacy, so she decided to study chemistry at university. She earned her bachelor’s degree at a small college in Queens, but due to a shortage of manpower during wartimes, Daly had the chance to study and conduct research at New York University, where she would earn her master’s degree, and Columbia University, where she would earn her doctorate in just 3 years. Daly taught physical science at Howard University from 1947–1948 then won a prestigious grant from the American Cancer Society for a 7-year post-doctoral fellowship at the Rockefeller Institute of Medicine. She worked with Alfred Mirsky, a leading microbiologist, and studied the composition and metabolism in the cell nucleus at a time when the structure of DNA had not yet been elucidated. In 1955, Daly returned to Columbia to work with Dr. Quentin B. Deming on the study of heart attacks. In 1958, the pair transferred to Albert Einstein College and discovered that hypertension preceded atherosclerosis (the accumulation of fats and cholesterol on artery walls) and made the link between high cholesterol and clogged arteries, laying the groundwork for research into how heart attacks happen and how we can prevent them. She was also at the forefront of studying the dangers of cigarettes on the lung and heart and how sugar and endocrine affect hypertension. Dr. Daly held prestigious positions as an investigator for the American Heart Association (1958–1963) and Professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 1960 until her retirement in 1986. Throughout her life, she supported programs that encourage minority students to enroll in medical and graduate school, and in 1988, she established a scholarship at Queens College for African Americans in her late father’s honor.

39. Irene D. Long

Dr. Irene D. Long was a physician, who made history as the first female chief medical officer at the Kennedy Space Center. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in biology from Northwestern University, her M.D. from the Saint Louis University School of Medicine, and her Master’s degree in aerospace medicine from Wright State University. She first joined NASA as a physician, was appointed Director of the Biomedical Operations and Research Office, and then promoted to Chief Medical Officer and Associate Director of Spaceport Services, the position she served in until retirement. During her time at NASA, Long played a crucial role in protecting the health and wellbeing of her co-workers, making sure that toxic chemicals and decompressions were not present when spacecraft were launched. Long also championed efforts to encourage women and minority students to enter aeronautics, launching the Space Life Sciences Training Program.

40. Jessie Price

Dr. Jessie Isabella Price was an acclaimed microbiologist and pioneer in avian diseases research. Growing up with a single mother, financial difficulties, and attending a predominantly white school, her childhood was difficult to say the least. However, she excelled in school and was encouraged to attend college instead of staying home to work and support her family. Price earned her Bachelor’s in microbiology in 1953, Master’s in veterinary bacteriology, pathology, and parasitology in 1958, and Ph.D. in microbiology in 1959, all from Cornell University. She was best known for her work developing a vaccine against the Pasteurella anatipestifer virus found in ducks. It killed 10% — 30% of the waterfowl population annually, taking a huge toll on farmers during the 1950s. Working as a lab technician at the Poultry Disease Research Farm of the New York State Veterinary College and Duck Research Laboratory at Cornell University, Price spent 18 years studying ducks. She then taught at Long Island University, Mitchell College Branch, and Southampton College, passing on her love for microbiology and fighting avian diseases.

41. Jewel Plummer Cobb

From a young age, Jewel Pummer Cobb was surrounded by people in the STEM fields: her grandfather studied at Howard University and became a pharmacist, her father was the first black person to graduate with an M.D. from Cornell University, became a physician, and worked in dermatology, and her mother taught dance and physical education. Cobb attended black Chicago public schools and supplemented her schooling with different books and scientific journals. Planning to follow in her mother’s footsteps, she wanted to become a physical education teacher, but she fell in love with the world of biology when using a microscope for the first time in her sophomore year. Cobb went on to the University of Michigan but faced racism and segregation of dormitories, being required to live in one house with all of the other African American students. Because of the discrimination, she transferred to Talladega Colleg and earned her bachelor’s in biology there. Originally rejected from a teaching fellowship because of her race, she traveled to New York University, presented her credentials, and began teaching there in 1945 before receiving her master’s in cell physiology in 1947 and doctorate in 1950. After graduation, Cobb became a fellow at the National Cancer Institute, directed the Tissue Culture Laboratory of the University of Illinois, taught and researched at New York University, Hunter College, and Sarah Lawrence College. Her work focused on studying the effects of chemotherapy drugs on cancer cells, specifically the skin cancer melanoma, and investigating skin pigment cells, primarily melanin. In 1967, she was appointed Dean and Professor of Zoology at Connecticut College and in 1975, Dean of Douglass College, the women’s division of Rutgers University. Throughout her career, Cobb created and funded programs to encourage women and minority students to enter traditionally white male-dominated fields and published “Filters for Women in Science” in 1979, exposing how educational institutions systematically “filter” or put barriers to women pursuing careers in STEM.

42. Arlene Gwendolyn Lee

Arlene Gwendolyn “Gwen” Lee showed great promise and ambition from a young age. She graduated from Allenby Junior Public School and was assigned to continue her studies at a trade school. Lee and her family were angry and went to the school demanding answers on why she was not assigned to the college preparatory academy instead. The principal said it was a done deal and that she should learn a trade before starting a family. Refusing to take no for an answer, she returned with her father and uncles, and the principal soon reversed his decision. Lee attended North Toronto Collegiate then went on to the University of Toronto, becoming the first woman in her family to do so. She later saw an ad in the newspaper for Empire Life, hiring young men for data processing. Lee showed up for the interview and fought to take the computer programming aptitude test that the other men took. She placed in the 99th percentile, and the interviewers were so shocked and accused her of cheating. Lee endured several more rounds of questioning, proving her intelligence and skill, and was hired as a programming analyst, the most senior position. As one of the first black female computer programmers in Canada, she pioneered programs for the IBM computer and paved the way for other women of color in technology.

“I had it easy. The computer didn’t care that I was a woman or that I was black.” — Arlene Gwendolyn Lee

43. Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson adored maths from a young age and was exceptional in the subject at school. She started high school at the age of just 10 and began post-secondary at West Virginia State University. Johnson earned her bachelor’s degree in mathematics and French then moved to Virginia to teach. She was later selected as one of the first three African American students to enroll at West Virginia University. In 1953, she joined NACA, now NASA, as a ‘human computer,’ working with other African American women to manually perform complex mathematical calculations for engineers. Here, she made strides in calculating the paths of spacecraft, most notably calculating the path of the Apollo 11 mission, which sent the first three men to the moon in 1969. Following her retirement in 1986, she received numerous awards, including the prestigious Congressional Gold Medal, and NASA named a computational research facility after her.

44. Sarah Boone

Sarah Boone was a 19th-century African American dressmaker, who was awarded a patent for her improvement of the ironing board. Growing up with enslaved parents, she found a way to escape slavery with her husband, a free black man. They moved to Connecticut and settled in an African American neighborhood before the Civil War. Her husband soon passed, but Boone did well for herself, keeping the house and raising her eight children. By the early 1890s, corsets rose in popularity, and she began tailoring them. The wooden plank used for ironing garments at the time was ill-suited for flattening anything but a long dress. Boone thought of a solution to create a curved and narrower board for ironing, so sleeves could be shifted without becoming wrinkled. Education for African Americans was illegal at the time, so it was not until her 40s when she first learned how to write. Boone used this skill to apply for a patent for her new invention in 1891, which she received. Sarah Boone became one of the first African American women to earn this formal distinction for inventors of the time.

45. Euphemia Lofton Haynes

Dr. Euphemia Lofton Haynes was an educator, mathematician, and the first African American woman to receive a doctorate in mathematics. She earned her Bachelor’s degree from Smith College in 1914, and years later, she returned to school, earned her Master’s Degree in education in 1930, and founded the Mathematics Department at Miner Teachers College that year. It was dedicated to training African American teachers in Washington, D.C. Throughout her career, Haynes taught at different elementary and high schools, and she chaired the Division of Mathematics and Business Education at the District of Columbia Teachers College. In 1943, Haynes returned to school once again and received her doctorate in mathematics from the Catholic University of America. Haynes was later appointed President of her district’s Board of Education and fought racial segregation within the local school system.

46. Jane C. Wright

Dr. Jane Cooke Wright was a pioneer in cancer research and became the highest-ranking African American woman in a United States medical institution by 1967. She graduated with honors from New York Medical College in 1945, interned at Bellevue Hospital as an assistant resident in internal medicine from 1945–1946, and completed her residency at Harlem Hospital from 1947–1948. In 1949, she joined the New York City Public Schools as a staff physician and served as a visiting physician at Harlem Hospital. At the hospital, she and her father, Dr. Louis Wright, studied anti-cancer chemicals and began testing them on human leukemias and cancers of the lymphatic system. Following her father’s death in 1952, she was appointed Head of the Cancer Research Foundation, which he founded. In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Dr. Wright to the President’s Commission on Heart Disease, Cancer, and Stroke, where she established a national network of treatment centers. She climbed the ranks at her alma mater New York Medical College, becoming a Professor of Surgery, the Head of the Cancer Chemotherapy Department, and finally, Associate Dean, implementing programs to study stroke, heart disease, and cancer and to train doctors in chemotherapy. In 1971, Wright became the first woman president of the prestigious New York Cancer Society and later a founding member of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Throughout her forty-year career, she published landmark research papers on cancer chemotherapy and led delegations of cancer researchers across Africa, China, Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union before retiring in 1987.

47. Margaret S. Collins

Margaret James Strickland Collins grew up surrounded by Black intellectuals, such as her father a Professor of Agriculture, gained access to West Virginia State College’s library at age six, and began college at just 14-years-old. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology and her doctorate in zoology at the University of Chicago, where she met mentor, entomologist, and Professor of Zoology Alfred Emerson, who first inspired her interest in termites. Collins was the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in entomology and received the nickname “Termite Lady” for her work collecting and studying the“ biogeography, physiology, chemical defenses, and taxonomy of termites” in a dozen countries.

Throughout her career, she held tenured faculty positions at Howard University, Florida A&M University, and Federal City College, co-authored over 40 research papers, served as the President of the Entomological Society of Washington, became a “world authority on the termite diversity in the Caribbean Islands and Guyana,” and curated a renowned termite collection at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of Natural History. A lesser-known part of her life is her work in civil rights. Collins was no stranger to racism nor sexism: her mentor, Alfred Emerson, deemed her unfit for research expeditions and fieldwork as a woman, an academic presentation she was set to give at a nearby university was canceled because of a bomb threat, and she was tailed by the FBI and police for volunteering as a bus driver for the Tallahassee Bus Boycott. She put her scientific career on hold for five years to focus on activism, organizing initiatives, such as the symposium “Science and the Question of Human Equality” at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

48. Ann T. Nelms

Ann T. Nelms is an African American nuclear physicist, whose research primarily focused on the persistence of nuclear radioactivity, nuclear fallout, and human health. In the 1950s, she began working as a nuclear physicist for the National Bureau of Standards, where she collaborated with the bureau's first theoretical physicist Ugo Fano and senior research fellow J.W. Cooper. Nelms published instrumental publications, such as “An Approximate Expression of Gamma Ray Degradation Spectra,” “Energy Loss and Range of Electrons and Positrons,” “U235 Fission Product Decay Spectra at Various Times After Fission,” and “Data on the Atomic form Factor: computation and Survey.” Not much else is known about her life, but as of January 1954, she lived in Washington, D.C. with her husband and child.

49. Jeanne Spurlock

Jeanne Spurlock was a psychiatrist and the first African American and the first woman to receive the Edward A. Strecker M.D. Award. Her passion for medicine was sparked when she broke her leg at age nine and believed doctors should be more caring towards patients. However, she came from a low-income household and pursued education as she would not be able to afford medical school. She studied at Spelman College on a scholarship while working full time, but she still could not afford to continue her schooling there and transferred to Roosevelt University. In 1943, Spurlock was accepted to an accelerated program at Howard University’s College of Medicine and graduated in 1947. Although there were few Black people in the psychiatry field at the time, she completed her residency at Chicago’s Cook County Hospital in 1950, a fellowship at the Institute for Juvenile Research in Chicago, and worked at the Mental Hygiene Clinic at Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Chicago and Illinois School for the Deaf. Spurlock trained at the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis then rose to Director of the Children’s Psychosomatic Unit of the Neuropsychiatric Institute. In the 1960s, she served as an attending psychiatrist and Chief of the Child Psychiatry Clinic at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago before becoming the Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Meharry Medical College. Spurlock joined the National Institute of Mental Health as a visiting scientist, the American Psychiatric Association as the Deputy Medical Director, and the Carnegie Corporation’s Board of Directors. Her research shed light on the effects of poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination on health and childhood development, lobbying for funding to support medical education programs and support minorities in medicine.

50. Joy Buolamwini

Based at the MIT Media Lab, Joy Adowaa Buolamwini is a Ghanaian-American computer scientist, a poet of code, activist, writer, speaker, and the founder of the Algorithmic Justice League. Forbes nicknamed her “the conscience of the AI revolution.” Buolamwini’s TED Talk on algorithmic bias has garnered over one million views, her op-eds on the dangers of facial recognition and surveillance technologies spurred legislatures to take action to investigate and better regulate these tools, and the AJL fights for equitable and accountable artificial intelligence. Buolamwini developed methodologies in her MIT thesis that exposed the racism and sexism in Microsoft, IBM, and Amazon’s algorithms, spoke in front of the World Economic Forum and the United Nations, serves on the Global Tech Panel, organized by the vice president of European Commission to advise world leaders on the harms of AI, and launched the Safe Face Pledge with the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology to prevent lethal applications of facial recognition technology. For her work, she was named to Bloomberg 50, Tech Review 35 Under 35, BBC 100 Women, Forbes Top 50 Women in Tech, Forbes 30 Under 30, a Rhodes Scholar, and a Fullbright Fellow.

Algorithmic bias, like human bias, results in unfairness. However, algorithms, like viruses, can spread bias on a massive scale at a rapid pace. — Joy Buolamwini

by Natasha Matta (with resarch contributions from Ha Nguyen)

References & Resources To Learn More



Natasha Matta
Rediscover STEAM

Student at the University of Michigan | Interested in health equity & social justice