February is Black History Month: Hidden figures throughout history

By Eva Stringer, Argonne African American Employee Resource Group (AAAERG)

Last month, I saw the film “Hidden Figures” with colleagues during a movie night sponsored by the Argonne African American Employee Resource Group (AAAERG) and Women in Science and Technology (WIST). The film is about three female African-American mathematicians working for NASA in the 1950s. This was a time when segregation was prevalent all over the country and African-American women did not have equal standing in the workforce. The film focused on Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan’s contributions to science and NASA’s mission. Their considerable achievements stood out like a beacon, particularly considering the social disparities they had to navigate at that time.

What struck me most about this based-on-truth story is that I had never before heard of these women. I had no idea that they had been trailblazers in our nation’s scientific history. It further reinforced, for me at least, that our historical rhetoric has been lacking in dialogue on African-American women’s contributions to science and the history of our nation. This prompted me to conduct my own research for “hidden figures” within our nation’s scientific history. Thus far, I’ve learned of more than 75+ African-American women who have contributed to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

In honor of Black History Month 2017, the AAAERG is shining a spotlight on African-American women from the past and present who have contributed to society by making historical advancements. Though these women have made great strides in their respective fields, they have often been overlooked or “hidden.” This month we invite you to join us in uncovering these gems by reading about and reflecting on their achievements.

I’ve shared some women’s names below in recognition of their achievements and also in the hope that you will take a few minutes each day during Black History Month to look up a name or two to learn about them and their often brilliant contributions to science.

African-American Women in STEM

  • Lilia Abron, Chemical engineer
  • Gloria Anderson, Chemist and academic administrator
  • Treena Livingston Arinzeh, Biomedical engineer and professor
  • Wanda Austin, Aeronautical engineer
  • Alice Augusta Ball, Chemist
  • Patricia Bath, Ophthalmologic surgeon and inventor
  • Regina Benjamin, Physician and 18th U.S. Surgeon General
  • Matilene Berryman, Oceanographer
  • Sarah Boone, Inventor
  • Carolyn Branch Brooks, Microbiologist
  • Marjorie Lee Browne, Mathematics educator
  • Kimberly Bryant, Electrical engineer and founder of Black Girls Code
  • Ursula Burns, Mechanical engineer and chairman of Xerox
  • Alexa Canady, Pediatric neurosurgeon
  • May Edward Chinn, Physician and cancer researcher
  • Yvonne Clark, Mechanical engineer
  • Jewel Plummer Cobb, Biologist and cancer researcher
  • Bessie Coleman, Aviator
  • Margaret S. Collins, Zoologist
  • Rebecca Lee Crumpler, Physician and the first African-American female doctor
  • Maria Curry-Nkansah, Physical and inorganic chemist and chief operations officer of Physical Sciences and Engineering at Argonne
  • Marie Maynard Daly, Biochemist and the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate
  • Christine Darden*, Mathematician, data analyst and aeronautical engineer
  • Helen Octavia Dickens, Surgeon and professor
  • Annie Easley, Computer scientist, mathematician and rocket scientist
  • Cecile Hoover Edwards, Nutritional chemist
  • Joycelyn Elders, Pediatrician and 15th U.S. Surgeon General
  • Dale Brown Emeagwali, Microbiologist, cancer researcher and author
  • Jeanette J. Epps, Aerospace engineer and NASA astronaut
  • Aprille Ericsson-Jackson, Aerospace engineer
  • Brittney Exline, Engineer; youngest African-American female engineer to date
  • Angella D. Ferguson, Pediatric physician and researcher of sickle cell disease
  • Njema Frazier, Nuclear physicist
  • Oveta Fuller, Microbiologist and immunologist
  • Sarah E. Goode, Entrepreneur, inventor and the first African-American woman to receive a U.S. patent
  • Evelyn Boyd Granville, Mathematician
  • Bettye Washington Greene, Physical chemist
  • Eliza Ann Grier, Physician
  • Bessie Blount Griffin, Physical therapist, inventor and forensic scientist
  • Betty Harris, Chemist and patent holder for a spot test for identifying explosives in a field environment
  • Mary Styles Harris, Biologist and geneticist
  • Euphemia Lofton Haynes, Mathematician and the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate in mathematics
  • Ruby Puryear Hearn, Biophysicist
  • Fern Hunt, Mathematician and mathematical biologist
  • Yasmin Hurd, Professor of neuroscience, psychiatry and pharmacology
  • Jedidah Isler, Astrophysicist and STEM advocate
  • Fatimah Jackson, Anthropologist and biologist
  • Mary Jackson*, Engineer and NASA’s first African-American female engineer
  • Shirley Jackson, Physicist and president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • Mae C. Jemison, Engineer, physician, NASA astronaut and the first African-American woman to travel in space
  • Ashanti Johnson, Geochemist and the first African-American female chemical oceanographer
  • Katherine Johnson*, Physicist and mathematician; performed complex calculations that enabled humans to successfully achieve space flight
  • Tracy L. Johnson, Professor of cell biology and biochemistry
  • Sinah Estelle Kelley, Chemist; worked on the mass production of penicillin
  • Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner, Inventor
  • Reatha King, Chemist and former vice president of General Mills Corp.
  • Shirley M. Malcolm, Zoologist and ecologist; currently serves as Head of Education and Human Resources Programs at the American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • Nadya Mason, Professor of physics
  • Dorothy McClendon, Microbiologist
  • Anna-Maria McGowan, Engineer and program manager of the Morphing Program at NASA Langley Research Center
  • Ruth Ella Moore, Scientist and the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate in the natural sciences
  • Ann T. Nelms, Nuclear physicist
  • Joan Murrell Owens, Educator and marine biologist
  • Vivian Pinn, Physician, scientist, pathologist and advocate of women’s health issues and concerns
  • Mary Logan Reddick, Neuro-embryologist
  • Antoinette Rodez Schiesler, Chemist
  • Mabel Keaton Staupers, Nurse and advocate for racial equality in the nursing profession
  • Susan McKinney Steward, Pediatric and homeopathy physician
  • Latanya Sweeney, Computer scientist
  • Valerie Thomas, Astronomer and inventor; patented the illusion transmitter and made contributions to NASA research
  • Margaret E. M. Tolbert, Biochemist and the first African-American and woman in charge of a U.S. Department of Energy Laboratory — New Brunswick Laboratory
  • Dorothy Johnson Vaughan*, Mathematician; worked on NASA’s SCOUT Launch Vehicle Program that launched America’s first satellites into space
  • Marguerite Williams, Geologist and first African-American to earn a doctorate in geology in the U.S.
  • Geraldine Pittman Woods, Science administrator; known for her lifelong dedication to community service and for establishing programs that promote minorities in STEM fields, scientific research and basic research
  • Dawn Jeannie Wright, Geographer, oceanographer and the first African-American female to dive to the ocean floor in the deep submersible ALVIN
  • Jane C. Wright, Cancer researcher and surgeon; pioneered the use of the drug methotrexate to treat breast and skin cancer

*The real-life African-American female pioneers portrayed in the movie “Hidden Figures”