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  • Writer's pictureKaroliina Pulkkinen

The HistoryMakers and African American Chemists

The HistoryMakers Digital Archive is a digital depository showcasing thousands of interviews with “known and unknown” African Americans. It also includes numerous interviews with African American chemists. Jeannette Brown, an organic chemist and a historian of chemistry, recalls how she first thought of pursuing science as a career:

BROWN: “At age four or five, I got very ill, and they put me in the hospital…  One of the doctors there, and I think, as I look back on it, Arthur Logan, he was an intern there at that time. But he lived in the house that we lived in. And so he was my doctor …
[L]iving in New York, when I saw Dr. Logan later on, 'cause he lived in my building, I said … "How do you become a doctor?" He said, "Oh, you study science," you know. And I have a picture, in fact, when I saw the five year olds at the Science Museum the other day, I said, Ah, they were that small and so was I. You know, I looked up at him, and I said, "Okay." And I decided that, yeah, science was something that I'm gonna learn because I wanted to be a doctor like Dr. Logan.”

Born in Bronx, New York in 1934, Brown became the first African American woman to earn her M.S. degree in organic chemistry from University of Minnesota in 1958. Aside from her research in organic chemistry, Brown contributed several biographies of African American chemists for the African American National Biography. (Brown’s accounts of the lives of Dr. Jennie Patrick and Dr. Marie Daly – first African American women to receive their Ph.D. degrees in chemical engineering and chemistry can be accessed here.) A more detailed picture is provided in Brown’s book African American Women Chemists (2011, OUP), where Brown’s focus is on the lives of Daly and other African American women chemists in industry, academia, and government, up to the late 1960s. 

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