Chemical Reactions in MyCentralJersey

March 4, 2012 - Hillsborough, NJ

By Paul Grezlla

At a scientific conference many years ago, research chemist Jeannette E. Brown met Dr. Marie Maynard Daly, who in 1947 became the first black woman to receive a doctorate in chemistry in the United States.

“You’re history,” Brown told Daly, who received her degree from Columbia University. “But where are the rest of us?"

Over a 40-year period, Brown learned about “the rest of us,” and transformed her painstaking research into the newly published African American Women Chemists, a historical compendium from Oxford University Press highlighting the accomplishments of women who were trailblazers in this field, many before the Civil Rights era.

“I would give talks at various conferences about some of these women, but I really had to dig to find information,” said Brown, a Hillsborough resident. “There weren’t a lot of places to go to do research, and I really had to piece it together. But I thought it was important to tell these stories and recognize what these women accomplished.”

In any historical timeline of significant accomplishments of black women in the field of chemistry, Brown's own name would appear. In 1956, she obtained a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Hunter College in New York — she was one of two African-Americans in the first class of Hunter’s then-new chemistry program. In 1958, she graduated with a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Minnesota — she was the first black woman to obtain a degree in chemistry from the university.

“I didn’t realize I was a pioneer,” the 77-year-old said. “I was just doing something I loved.”...

Her list of awards and honors would fill a page — many of them are from her alma maters and past employers and are around her work to mentor students and create programs to encourage students to attend school and study science. Brown, who never married, said she elected to devote her life to her career and mentoring students.

She is a member of the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers and the Association for Women in Science and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and was the 2004 Société de Chimie Industrielle (American Section) Fellow of the Chemical Heritage Foundation. She is a member of the first class of American Chemical Society Fellows 2009 — and the first black woman elected for this honor. She also received the Somerset County New Jersey Women's Commission award for volunteerism in 2010, for her work on the HomeSharing board...

Link to MCJ

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