Marie Maynard Daly
April 16, 1921 – October 28, 2003
Marie Maynard Daly was born in Queens, New York’s Corona neighborhood to Helen and Ivan Daly. Helen had grown up in Washington, D.C. and her family’s avid reading sparked a passion within her. Daly’s mother shared her love for reading by spending time reading to and with Daly with a special focus on her interest in science. Ivan had emigrated from the Caribbean with dreams of becoming a chemist but had to drop out of Cornell University because of financial issues. He moved to New York City and found a job with the postal service but passed on his interest in science to his daughter.
With continued encouragement from her parents, Daly began pursuing an education in science. She attended Hunter College High School where teachers agreed that she was well-matched for the field of chemistry. Daly enrolled at Queens College and graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. Money had been an issue so she continued to live at home and commuted to make her education more affordable.
Finances were still an issue as she prepared to enter grad school. Fortunately, Daly was awarded a fellowship and a part-time job as a lab assistant at Queens College. After working for a year, she’d saved up enough money to begin her graduate studies. Daly then completed her master’s degree program at New York University in one year. She again worked for a year at Queens College tutoring students.
With her savings, she then enrolled at Columbia University in the chemistry Ph.D. program. It’s believed that she received funding from the university due to World War II preventing many would-be male scientists from enrolling. Having various sources of financial support enabled Daly to focus on her chemistry studies full-time. At Columbia, she studied under the guidance of Dr. Mary L. Caldwell who was also making great strides in the industry with her research into amylase, a digestive enzyme found in saliva which converts starch into sugars.
Daly’s research under Caldwell focused on how the human body’s compounds affect and contribute to digestion. Her doctoral dissertation, “A Study of the Products Formed by the Action of Pancreatic Amylase on Corn Starch,” was approved in 1947. In just three years, Daly had completed her doctoral degree and in the process became the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry in the United States.
She spent two years teaching at Howard University until a grant awarded by the American Cancer Society prompted her return to New York City. Daly began collaborating on a research project at the Rockefeller Institute that would continue for seven years. Some of Daly’s most significant research studied the relationship between cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and the clogging of arteries in rats.
It might be common knowledge now but until that point, high blood pressure had not been connected to high blood cholesterol levels. Daly’s findings were an important advancement in better understanding the role high cholesterol plays in clogged arteries. This information was pivotal in re-imagining healthy diets along with circulatory and heart health.
Daly would later balance various teaching positions with additional research projects. These studies included researching the components of cells, proteins that organize DNA, the chemistry of heart attacks, and how the heart and lungs are affected by smoking. In addition to scientific work, Daly also strived to increase minority enrollment at medical schools and in science programs. This led to her creating a scholarship at Queens College in her father’s honor for minority science majors.
Marie Maynard Daly passed away on October 28, 2003, from cancer. She had married Vincent Clark in 1961 but it seems the couple had no children and it’s unclear if she was predeceased or survived by her husband.
- Biography.com Editors, ed. 2021. “Marie M. Daly.” Biography.com. A&E Networks Television. January 12, 2021. https://www.biography.com/scientist/marie-m-daly.
- Diaz, Sara. 2007. “Marie Maynard Daly Clark (1921-2003).” Blackpast.org. March 7, 2007. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/clark-marie-maynard-daly-1921-2003/.
- Huizen, Jennifer. 2021. “Who Was Dr. Marie Maynard Daly?” Medical News Today. Healthline Media. February 12, 2021. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/dr-marie-maynard-daly-the-first-black-woman-with-a-phd-in-chemistry.
- Li, Wei. 2020. “Marie M. Daly – From a Love of Science to a Legacy of Discoveries.” Science in the News. Harvard Graduate School of the Arts and Sciences. November 12, 2020. https://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2020/marie-m-daly-from-a-love-of-science-to-a-legacy-of-discoveries-2/.
- “Marie Maynard Daly.” 2018. Science History Institute. November 9, 2018. https://www.sciencehistory.org/historical-profile/marie-maynard-daly.
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