African-American Pioneers in Science

Marie Maynard Daly (1921 - 2003)

Marie Maynard Daly Photo

Photo Credit: Queens College



Queens, New York


B.S. Chemistry, Queens College
M.S. Chemistry, New York University
Ph.D. Chemistry, Columbia University

  • Marie Maynard Daly
  • First African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry (1947)
  • Conducted pioneering research on the effects of hypertension (high blood pressure) and blockage in arteries leading to a better understanding of how heart attacks are caused.

Biochemist Marie Maynard Daly was born on April 16, 1921 in Queens, N.Y. Her father, Ivan, was a postal worker and mother, Helen, a homemaker. Daly's love of chemistry came from her father, who had immigrated to America from the West Indies to study chemistry. He enrolled at Cornell University but unfortunately, due to lack of funds, was forced to drop out. During her youth, Daly loved to read, especially about science. After graduating from Hunter College High School, she went on to attend Queens College where she earned her B.S in Chemistry in 1942 (graduating magna cum laude). Daly then went on to attend New York University and earned her Master's degree there in 1944.

Daly continued her education by enrolling at Columbia University. At Columbia, she studied under Dr. Mary Caldwell, a pioneering chemist and nutritionist who expanded opportunities for women in the field of chemistry. Daly studied how compounds in the human body affect digestion. The title of her dissertation was A Study of the Products Formed by the Action of Pancreatic Amylase on Corn Starch. In 1947 Dr. Daly received her Ph.D. in chemistry, becoming the first African-American woman in the U.S. to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry.

After earning her Ph.D., Dr. Daly held teaching positions at Howard University and at Columbia University. She also conducted research at Rockefeller Institute of Medicine (New York City) working on understanding the composition and metabolism of components of the cell nucleus. In 1955, back at Columbia, and with the assistance of Dr. Quentin Deming both there and later at Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University, Dr. Daly discovered the link between high cholesterol and clogged arteries - leading to a better understanding of how heart attacks are caused. Her further research studied the effects of sugar on arteries, and the effects of cigarette smoke in lungs.

During her distinguished career, Dr. Daly was a member of Sigma Xi, Phi Beta Kappa, the New York Academy of Science and a fellow at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

In 1988, in honor of her father, Dr. Daly established a scholarship fund for African-American science students at Queens College.