I love Black History Month. Thanks to the internet we can learn so much more about our ancestors than what was taught to us in school. Although the works of Dr. King and Harriet Tubman were significant, our contributions to building this country far exceed just those two. We all know that Black women have been underrepresented, underpaid, discounted and left out in many job sectors. Yet we are often the backbone and the genius behind several inventions, processes, and much more. This year I wanted to highlight Black women in STEM. Black women have been pioneers in STEM since the turn of the 20th century. Here are just a few of those women who have pioneered and inspired future generations of young girls in STEM.
At the age of 16, Alice obtained bachelor degrees in pharmaceutical chemistry and pharmacy from the University of Washington. She then moved to Hawaii and pursued a masters in chemistry. She became the first Black person and the first woman to become a professor of chemistry in the university’s chemistry department. While there she studied chamulororgra oil and its chemical properties. This study led to the development of a successful injectable treatment to cure leprosy later coined the Ball Method. Unfortunately, Ball died at the young age of 24 due to complications of inhaling a dangerous chemical in the lab. After her death, a white male colleague took credit for her discovery. Decades later in 2000, she was recognized for her achievement by the University of Hawaii and the Lieutenant Governor declared February 29th as Alice Ball day.
West’s mathematical and programming expertise led to an invention of an accurate model of the Earth which was used as the foundation for the creation of the Global Positioning System (GPS). She was inducted into the US Air Force Hall of Fame, one of the highest honors awarded by the Air Force.
Alexa Canady is the first female African American neurosurgeon in the United States. She specializes in pediatric neurosurgery and became the director of neurosurgery at The Children’s Hospital. Under her direction, the department became one of the best in the country.
Shirley Ann Jackson
Jackson is the only African American woman awarded the National Medal of Science. She is the second African American to earn a doctorate in physics in the whole country. This made her the first African American woman to gain a doctorate from MIT in any field. Her area of expertise is in theoretical physics which led her to become the first woman and first African American woman to chair the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Bessie Coleman was the first African American woman to hold a pilot license. She developed an interest in aviation at an early age but there were no opportunities available for African Americans or women. She saved money to move to France and obtained her international pilot license in 1921. Afterward, she moved back to the states and became a successful air show pilot. She hoped to start an aviation school for African Americans but died in a plane crash at the age of 34.
Happy Black History Month!