A rare picture from one of the earliest groundbreakers, mathematicians, and other un-missable faces


This is a rare picture of Ruth Ella Moore, who was born in 1903. Dr Moore was the first African-American woman to gain a PhD in a natural science, when Ohio State University awarded her a PhD in bacteriology for her work on TB in 1933. She was professor and head of the department of bacteriology at Howard University.

This photo was in an article on a meeting, in the American Society of Microbiology’s (ASM) magazine. A very big thank you to the team at ASM, who leapt into action in response to a @MissingSciFaces tweet: soon her Wikipedia page had this pic.

More to check out since the last post:

New images slideshow

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Wesley Anthony Brown (1927-2012) was the first African-American graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy, in 1949.

Ruth Ella Moore (1903-1994) (featured above).

Cynthia Margaret Pine (b. 1953 in Guyana), dentistry researcher and educator, and the first woman dean of a dentistry school in the UK.

Elbert Frank Cox (1895-1969), the first African-American to gain a PhD in mathematics, from Cornell University in 1925.

Abdulalim A. Shabazz (1927-2014), earned the second PhD by an African-American in mathematics from Cornell University – in 1955.

Featured scientists needing images

Some people you may not know! Inspired? You could help by emailing the libraries 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

First new page in the project this month was Mary Elliott Hill (1907-1969), likely the first African-American woman to be gain a master’s degree in chemistry, Virginia State University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Kentucky.

This month is Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month. So expect to see plenty of new pages and photos for African-American mathematicians this month. Two new pages for African-American women in mathematic:

George Caldwell Smith (1909-1961) was one of the first African-American women to earn a bachelor’s degree in mathematics (in Kansas), going on to add a master’s from the University of Chicago and teach in several universities, become head of the Spelman College department of mathematics. Later in life, she studied for her PhD: but she died soon after defending her dissertation. (Her PhD was conferred posthumously in 1961.)

Louise Nixon Sutton (1925-2006) was the first African-American woman to be awarded a PhD in mathematics from New York University – in 1962.

Other new pages on Wikipedia that appeared since the last post:

Diane Powell Murray is an African-American software engineer and program manager, with a bachelor’s in mathematics from Spelman College and a master’s from Cornell (in 1976). (No photo.)

Talithia Williams is a mathematician and statistician, and the first tenured African-American woman at Mudd College. She got her bachelor’s from Spelman College, and master’s and PhD (2008) from Rice University. (No photo.)

Shihoko Ishii is professor of mathematics at the University of Tokyo. She gained her PhD from Tokyo Metropolitan University in 1983. (No photo.)

Mei-Chu Chang is a mathematician who got a bachelor’s degree National Taiwan University, and her PhD from University of California Berkeley in 1982. (No photo.)

Minerva Cordero is Puerto Rican, and a professor of mathematics at the University of Texas Arlington. She gained a PhD at the University of Iowa in 1989. (No photo.)

Other faces slideshow

While looking for scientists’ faces, some other faces come up that are hard to leave behind. The line has to be drawn somewhere, with so many scientists still waiting – sometimes it’s hard to know where the line is, though. And some categories are emerging that need to be picked up when serendipity puts them in my path: notable people in civil rights, indigenous people, and African-American women academics. Here’s a batch from the last week or so.

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Mary Ellen Britton (1855-1925), African-American physician, educator, suffragist, journalist, and civil rights activist.

James Nabrit (1932-2013), African-American civil rights lawyer – his Wikipedia page had no photo. Here he is seen (far right) on the Supreme Court steps with George Hayes and Thurgood Marshall after the win in Brown v. Board of Education: the ruling that segregation in education violates the U.S. Constitution.

C. Virginia Fields (b. 1945), African-American woman who studied sociology, social worker and civil rights activist-turned-politician, who now leads the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS.

Katherine Gottlieb, indigenous woman, president and CEO of an Alaskan Native Healthcare Organization, and a MacArthur Fellow.

Pilar Thomas, tribal affairs lawyer and member of the Pascua Yaqui tribe of Arizona. She served in various government agencies, participating in the U.S. adoption of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, tribal land leasing reforms, and water rights.

Hilda Bastian

A forgotten pioneering African-American physicist & correcting the record

Carolyn Beatrice Parker

This is Carolyn Beatrice Parker (b 1917). Up to now, people said the first African-American woman physicist who reached PhD level was in the 70s. But Carolyn Beatrice Parker researched plutonium on the Dayton Project, part of WWII’s Manhattan project. She completed her physics PhD at MIT in the early 50s, but leukemia, likely plutonium-induced, stopped her being able to defend it. She died at 47. Read more about her in her new Wikipedia page.

Her story highlighted another error in the record: she was related to marine biologist Joan Murrell Owens, another pioneering African-American woman scientist. She was credited with being the first to get a PhD in geology, in 1984: but that was likely Marguerite Thomas Williams in 1941.

The biggest shock, though: the widely credited first African-American woman to get a PhD in botany, Jesse Jarue Mark, turned out not to be a woman. Bryan Clark found this out when he tracked down a photo of JJ Mark. (Many years ago, Jesse’s name became Jessie, and the error spread for decades.) Thanks, Bryan!

A different Jessie, Jessie Isabelle Price, was the subject of a new set of errors – this time started by Buzzfeed. Got it corrected when Danielle Lee weighed in on Twitter – thanks Danielle!

More to check out since the last post:

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Yvonne Young Clark (b 1929) was the first African-American woman to get a degree in mechanical engineering, in 1951. She helped design the containers that Neil Armstrong used to bring the first moon rocks to earth!

Cheryl Hayashi is a Hawaii-born biologist and MacArthur Fellow, who specialized in the genetic structure of spider silk. She is now professor and director of comparative biology research at the American Museum of Natural History.

Carolyn Beatrice Parker (1917 – 1966) – physicist from above.

Deborah Shiu-Ian Jin (b 1968) is another physicist who died young – at 47 from cancer. She was another MacArthur Fellow and a pioneer in a type of quantum chemistry.

Janie L. Miles (b 1958) was the first African-American woman to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy. She earned a B.S. in general engineering in 1980: she was the only African-American in the first class of women after the prohibition against women students was lifted.

Featured scientists needing images

Some people you may not know! Inspired? You could help by emailing the libraries 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.)

More about Betty Harris (b 1940) on Wikipedia.


A. Oveta Fuller (b 1955) on Wikipedia.


Lonnie Standifer (1926 – 1996) on Wikipedia.


New pages on Wikipedia

Wikipedia pages for Carolyn Parker, Lonnie Standifer, and Janie L. Mines were all new. Some highlights from other new Wikipedia pages for scientists from under-represented groups:

  • Vera Mae Green (1928 – 1982) – African-American anthropologist who worked on methods for studying African-American communities. (She needs a photo, too!)
  • Olabisi Ugbebor (b 1951) is the first female professor of mathematics in Nigeria – her page is just a mention though. Any takers for expanding and tracking down a photo?
  • Harriette Pipes McAdoo (1940 – 2009) – another pioneering African-American anthropologist.


Hilda Bastian