Trailblazing African-American STEM women in the ’40s and ’50s, breaking ground today, and back to the 19th century

Alma Levant Hayden and Hattie Scott Peterson

These two extraordinary women both had degrees from Howard University. On the left is Alma Levant Hayden, whose love of chemistry and Master’s degree saw her blaze a trail in government science – and likely the first African-American FDA scientist in the 1950s, after a time at the NIH. Hayden came to national attention when she unmasked a successful and expensive cancer treatment scam.

On the right is Hattie Peterson, the first African-American woman to earn a degree in civil engineering. She graduated from Howard in 1946, and blazed a trial for women engineers in the US Army Corps of Engineers in California. You can read a little bit more here. That extra information was provided by the Sacramento USACE, but because it hasn’t been published anywhere, it can’t be used on the Wikipedia page.

Two of the mathematicians from Missing Scientists’ Faces have each had a spot for a day on the Wikipedia main page: Louise Nixon Sutton and Thyrsa Frazier Svager, both among the first African-American women to gain PhDs in mathematics or mathematics education. You can see the text that appeared here and here. That brought an extra 5,000 visitors to meet these pioneering women.

And there’s more to check out since the last post.

New images slideshow

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Alma Levant Hayden, chemist, and Hattie Scott Peterson, civil engineer (more above). (Note: The image for Peterson is the first one in this project that’s under Wikipedia’s “fair use” criteria: although we are pretty sure there is no copyright attached, we can’t be 100% sure.)

Claudia Baquet is a pioneer in the field of health disparities. Her photo is now in Wikimedia, ready for Wikipedia – but she needs a page. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), Baquet was responsible for adding race and ethnicity to NCI cancer statistics, enabling the development of intervention trials to reduce barriers to African-Americans quitting smoking and getting screened for cancer. More on Baquet here.

Saadia Zahidi is an economist, who migrated to the US after growing up in Pakistan. She heads Gender Parity and Human Capital at the World Economic Forum, and author of Fifty Million Rising: How a new generation of working women is revolutionizing the Muslim world.

Featured scientist needing an image

Inspired? You could help by emailing the library at University of District of Columbia or Howard University, to try to get a photo that could be used on Wikipedia! (More on what Wikipedia needs here.)

New scientists’ pages on Wikipedia

Nita Ahuja is a surgeon and scientist at Johns Hopkins University. She migrated to the US as a child with her parents, from India. (Her page needs a photo.)

Erica Walker is another African-American mathematician. She is Professor of Mathematics and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Ebonya Washington is the Henry Kohn Professor of Economics at Yale University . She is one of only 13 black economists on the faculty of America’s highest ranking universities. (And her page needs a photo.)

Tan Lei (1963-2016)) was a Chinese mathematician who studied in France, and worked in Germany, England, and France. She contributed to knowledge about complex numbers, including the Mandelbrot set and Julia set.

Other faces slideshow

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

While looking for scientists’ faces, you come across others who are missing from Wikipedia that need to be added.

John Hope (1868-1936) was the first African-American to be president of Morehouse College, the historically black college in Atlanta attended by Martin Luther King Jr. The Science Hall was renamed John Hope Hall in his honor.

John H. Murphy (1840-1922), born into slavery, he was the publisher of one of the oldest operating black newspapers, the Afro-American.

Share some of these pictures and stories, and read about how you can help find missing scientists’ faces. And a big thank you to the USACE and California State Library for helping track down Hattie Peterson and her photo.

Hilda Bastian

Scientists’ photos of their colleagues, an historical picture surfaces, & a mathematician’s legacy

 

Photo of Josephine Silone Yates

This is Josephine Silone Yates in around 1885. She was the first African-American women to head a college science department and the first to become a full professor. Silone Yates was an activist. And that’s why this photo of her surfaced recently. The Library of Congress digitized and released 19th century photos of black women activists – and this photo from a postcard was one of them. (Thanks to @WikiWomenInRed for spreading the word!)

As well as adding this newly available photo to Silone Yates’ Wikipedia page, I added this one that was published with her obituary in 1912. That’s in the new images slide show below.

This week also showed the value of asking senior scientists if they have photos they took of noted and groundbreaking scientists. Raymond L. Johnson went from a segregated two-room school in Texas in the 1940s to a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring in 2015. Along the way, he broke the color barrier after a lawsuit to attend Rice University, and was the first African-American mathematics professor at the University of Maryland. He put me in touch with Lenore Blum, computer scientist professor at Carnegie Mellon, who had taken photos at a 1995 gathering of African-American mathematicians. The first two photos from this treasure trove are below: Raymond Johnson and Fern Hunt. Know a senior scientist who’s always taking photos at conferences? Ask them who they have in their collection!

And another Twitter lucky break: hunting for a photo of one of the first African-American women to get a PhD in mathematics, professor and provost Thyrsa Frazier Svager (1930-1999), turned up a little tribute to her on Twitter by the Dayton Federation. Take a few moments to watch it – she’s amazing! She and her physics professor husband, Aleksandar Svager, lived on one of their salaries so they could invest the other to build a legacy for  a scholarship fund for African-Americans and other minorities to study mathematics or physics.

 

 

They replied to a tweet, got permission from her husband to put the photo in the public domain, and I wrote a Wikipedia page about her amazing life.

More to check out since the last post:

New images slideshow

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Josephine Silone Yates, Raymond L. Johnson, and Thyrsa Frazier-Svager are all discussed above. The two others in the slideshow:

Fern Hunt (b. 1948) is a mathematician who has worked on problems at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), as well as her own research and teaching.

Nicole King (b. 1970) is a biologist, MacArthur Fellow, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator. She has a lab at University of California, Berkeley – and she developed and maintains a list of resources for people who want to increase diversity at science conferences: let her know if you have resources to add.

Featured scientists needing images

Some people you may not know! Inspired? You could help by emailing the library or media office at any of the institutions they were associated with, to try to get a photo that could be used on Wikipedia! (More on what Wikipedia needs here.)

 

 

New scientists’ pages on Wikipedia

Ritu Karidhal had one of the new pages on Wikipedia. Some other new pages since the last post – all but the first have no photos.

Núria López-Bigas is a Spanish biologist who leads the Biomedical Genomics Research Group in Barcelona, investigating cancer genomes using computation.

Ampar Acker-Palmer (b. 1968) is a cell biologist and neuroscientist, who has worked on the similarities in nerve and blood vessel development. She is from Spain, working in Germany.

Rebecca Bace (1955-2017) was a Japanese-American computer scientist and pioneer in intrusion detection who worked at the NSA and Los Alamos National Laboratory, as well as industry and academia.

Mónica Tarducci is an anthropologist and feminist activist in Buenos Aires, who has described herself as a “secular missionary, spreading knowledge through different contexts”.

Other faces slideshow

While looking for scientists’ faces, you come across others who are missing from Wikipedia that need to be added. This time, it led to a new Wikipedia page for an African-American suffragist and anti-lynching activist.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

An amazing couple: Nellie Griswold Francis (1874-1969) was an African-American suffragist, who not only helped achieve women’s right to vote in Minnesota, but initiated, drafted, and lobbied for an anti-lynching bill that was signed into law in 1921. Later, she and her husband were the target of a Ku Klux Klan campaign when they bought a house in a white neighborhood – with death threats and crosses burned on the front lawn. She was an amateur singer and actor, too, including writing at least one play.

Her husband, William T. Francis (1870-1929), was a successful lawyer who also won several racial discrimination battles, was active politically – and helped with the anti-lynching bill. He was Minnesota’s first black diplomat, appointed Consul-General in Liberia in 1927. He died there of yellow fever in 1929 – but an investigation he did into forced labor and slavery set off a chain of events that brought down the Liberian president and vice-president.

William Sidney Pittman (1875-1958) was an African-American architect, the son-in-law of Booker T. Washington, and later published a weekly newspaper.

And Jennie Dean was born into slavery in 1848: she became a suffragist, and founded churches, Sunday schools, and the only higher education institution open to African-Americans at the time.

Inspired? Share some of these pictures and stories, and read about how you can help find missing scientists’ faces. And a big thank you to Raymond Johnson, Lenore Blum, Wiki Women in Red, the Dayton Foundation, and Alexsandar Svager for their help!

Hilda Bastian

 

 

 

 

Welcome to the Missing Scientists’ Faces Blog!

 

If you want to see pictures of notable scientists you’ve never seen before, you’re in the right place! The goal here is to put faces to names you may know, but most often won’t.

Groups that are under-represented in science fields end up even more under-represented in our image of the professions. That’s why “Missing Scientists’ Faces” leans heavily in the opposite direction. And it’s centered around Wikipedia, making it globally accessible, and a great way to crowdsource science’s historic record. You can catch up on the backstory here.

This first big post covers the first few weeks of March. Expect to see a post about once a week, even if it’s a short one. You can keep up with how this project develops, with no more than one email a week. In this first post, you can check out:

New images

The first batch of new recent images comes from a mix of crowdsourcing, targeted searching, and serendipity. The people were born between 1856 and 1963:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  • Evelyn Boyd Granville (b 1924) – the second African-American woman to get a PhD in mathematics (1949), moving into computer programming with IBM in the 1950s, then to NASA in the 1960s to work on Apollo missions, then to being Professor of Mathematics at California State University.
  • Lydia Villa-Komaroff (b 1947) – a molecular and cellular biologist, who is the third Mexican-American woman to receive a PhD in this field (1975). She is known for co-discovering how bacterial cells can generate insulin, and is a co-founding member of The Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS).
    • Mónica Feliú-Mójer shared a link to videos of Villa-Komaroff talking about why she became a scientist, why people should study science and more – the link is  now on Villa-Komaroff’s Wikipedia page, too.
  • Nathan Francis Mossell (1856-1946) was the first African-American graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, studied in London as well, and helped found, then lead, the Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital and Training School in Philadelphia. This adds an image when he was older to his Wikipedia page.
  • Aprille Ericsson (1963-) – aerospace engineer at NASA. First woman to earn a PhD in mechanical engineering at Howard University, first African-American woman to earn a PhD in engineering at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. She has been working on the Mars mission. Sourced by: Nature, in its story about MissingSciFaces.

This second batch are all MacArthur Fellows – scientists awarded “the genius grant”. Jennifer Richeson was the one I was looking for: she pointed me to her MacArthur program portraits. All those photos are in the public domain – but not in Wikipedia. Here is a small subset:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  • Jennifer Richeson (1972-) – social psychologist and Professor at Northwestern University, MacArthur Fellowship (the genius grant). She researches interracial relations, including using brain imaging studies. Sourced by: Jennifer Richeson responded to a direct request on Twitter.
  • Lisa Cooper (b 1963) – a public health physician and epidemiologist born in Liberia, who is a Professor at Johns Hopkins University. She is known for her research on the impact of race, ethnicity, and gender on the doctor-patient relationship and health disparities.
  • Mercedes Doretti (b 1959) – an Argentinian forensic anthropologist who founded the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, working on finding evidence of crimes against humanity.
  • Wafaa  El-Sadr (b 1950) – an infectious disease and public health physician, who studies HIV and tuberculosis and is a global activist. She is a Professor at Columbia University, and Egyptian-American.
  • Yoky Matsuoka (b 1972) – now at Apple, her research combined neuroscience and robotics to design prosthetics. She is Japanese-American.
  • Olufunmilayo Olopade (b 1957) – a hematology oncologist, she studied breast cancer genes in women of African heritage. She is Nigerian-American, and a Professor at the University of Chicago.
  • Nergis Mavalvala (b 1968) – a Pakistani-American astrophysicist, who participated in the first observation of gravitational waves and more. She is a Professor at MIT.
  • Ana Maria Rey (b 1976 or 1977) – a theoretical physicist known for her work on ultra-cold atoms. Born in Colombia, she is a Professor at the University of Colorado.

Featured scientists needing images

Tweeted out two amazing women scientists this week, including tweeting at the institutions they are associated with. Any takers for more direct contact? The copyright status of these wonderful photos is not clear, so we don’t know if they are in the public domain and can be used on Wikipedia. Zelma Maine-Jackson and Gloria Chisum are both important and inspiring scientists who need a lot more visibility:

 

Sophie Lutterlough (1910-2009)entomologist

Wikipedia bio page – this picture uploaded by the Smithsonian Institution to Wikimedia Commons needed to have a story shared:

Photo of Sophie Lutterlough
Sophie Lutterlough, entomologist

 

The photo is of Sophie Lutterlough, showing her with the microscope, tweezers, and chemicals she spent countless hours poring over as she restored, identified, and classified insects at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (NMNH). The NMNH reports that she restored hundreds of thousands of insects over the years, and co-identified 40 type specimens – that’s an insect that stands as the representative of its species. In 1979, a large mite was named in her honor: pygemephorus lutterloughae.

Lutterlough liked biology, and became fascinated by the NMNH and the work that went on inside. But when she applied to work there in 1943, racial barriers meant a job on the curation and science side was impossible. Lutterlough got a job as the first woman elevator operator, studying the exhibits in her lunch hours and becoming a font of expertise for visitors. After 12 years of that, she asked an insect curator if there could be a place for her in his department – and she was on her way to becoming an entomologist.

It wasn’t unusual at the Museum for people without zoological qualifications to become scientists by training and experience there. It might be unique for an African-American of her generation, though. For years at least, she was the only African-American employed full-time on the Museum’s science side. I hope to find out from the NMNH if she was the first. Margaret Collins, a zoology Professor at Howard University, was a research associate at NMNH, apparently from the late 1970s.

With big thanks to the social media and entomology teams at the NMNH who tracked down the article in a paywalled zoological article describing the mite named after Luttlerlough – and to NMNH for blogging about Lutterlough and releasing the photo in Wikimedia Commons that introduced me to Lutterlough.

 

Hilda Bastian