5 Black Women in STEM That Aren’t the Women from “Hidden Figures”

Happy February! Or, more specifically, happy Black History Month! While we’ve already written a few articles on the topic (Sarah’s articles on black women in art and celebrating BHM on Spotify), we’re dedicating this week to highlighting and celebrating the many influential and incredible black women of history and today. We’re kicking off the week with some awesome black ladies in STEM! Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson (the women of Hidden Figures) were and are amazing women that forever changed American history, but contrary to (white) popular belief, they’re not the only black women in science. Here are 5 women in science that you may not have heard of before.

 

Dr. Lilia Ann Abron

Picture courtesy of WUSTL Magazine

Dr. Lilia Ann Abron, born in Memphis in 1945, was the first African American woman to earn a PhD in chemical engineering. She began her PhD at UMass Amherst and finished it at University of Iowa. After teaching environmental and civil engineering at Tennessee State, Vanderbilt, and Howard University, she founded PEER Consultants, an environmental engineering firm specializing in problems of environmental contamination. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta, the International Women’s Forum, American Society of Civil Engineers, the National Academy of Arts and Sciences, and is the president of Jack and Jill in Washington D.C. In an interview with Washington University in St. Louis Magazine, she says that Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” inspired her to study the environment.

 

Dr. Patricia Bath

Picture courtesy of Changing the Face of Medicine (NIH)

Dr. Patricia Bath, born in 1942 in Harlem, NY, made repeated firsts, such as first African American resident in ophthalmology at NYU School of Medicine, first African American female surgeon at UCLA Medical Center, first female faculty member of the UCLA Jules Stein Eye Institute, first African American female doctor to receive a patent for a medical invention, and first female chair and director of a postgraduate training program in the U.S. If that run-on sentence wasn’t impressive enough, she was also inducted into the International Women in Medicine Hall of Fame in 2001. In an interview with The History Makers, she said her favorite vacation spot is Hawaii, which is a big mood.

 

Dr. Dorothy Lavinia Brown

Picture courtesy of Changing the Face of Medicine (NIH)

Dr. Dorothy Lavinia Brown (1914-2004), born in Philadelphia, PA was an African American surgeon and legislator. Like Dr. Bath, Dr. Brown was many historical firsts, such as the first African American surgeon in the Southeastern U.S. and the first African American woman to serve in the Tennessee General Assembly. She was the chief surgeon at the Riverside Hospital in Nashville before being elected to the General Assembly, where she fought for abortion rights and rights for people of color. Dr. Brown served on the Joint Committee on Opportunities for Women in Medicine and was a lifelong member of the NAACP. She adopted her daughter from an unmarried patient at the Riverside Hospital, becoming the first known single woman in Tennessee to adopt a child. She claimed that her tonsillectomy at age 5 sparked her interest in surgery, and she was colloquially known by her residents as “Dr. D.”

 

Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler

Picture courtesy of Amazon (no known surviving pictures of Dr. Crumpler)

Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler (1831-1895) is a big one!! After studying at the New England Female Medical College in Boston and becoming a doctor in 1864, she became the first African American female physician in the U.S. (She went to medical school during the Civil War, and I can barely make it to class if it’s raining or I’ve run out of Fig Bars). She first practiced medicine in Boston, but after the war, this Delaware native moved to Richmond… the frickin’ home of the Confederacy and Black Code central. She was moved to practice medicine in Richmond because it was “a proper field for real missionary work,” focusing her care on women and children. She also worked for the Freedmen’s Bureau, providing medical care to free slaves. When she moved back to Boston with “renewed vigor,” she provided care for women and children, regardless of ability to pay. She published her book, “A Book of Medical Discourses” in 1883 and dedicated it to nurses and mothers.

 

Dr. Carolyn Parker

Picture courtesy of Wikipedia

Dr. Carolyn Parker (1917-1966), born in Florida, was a physicist who worked on the Dayton Project, the plutonium research branch of the Manhattan Project. She had two master’s degrees, one in math from the University of Michigan and one in physics from MIT, making her the first known African American woman to gain a postgraduate degree in physics! Though she finished her doctorate courses for a PhD in physics, but she sadly was not able to defend her dissertation because she had developed radiation-induced leukemia from her research with the Dayton Project. After her time with the Dayton Project, she then became a professor of physics at Fisk University. I feel like we often think that everyone working on the Manhattan Project was a 40 year-old white guy, but it’s important to know that some pretty amazing, intelligent black women in their 20’s contributed as well!