Dr. Marie Maynard Daly

Nothing thrills a writer more than a letter from a reader, especially when the reader offers suggestions about another unsung person to be celebrated. Such a notice came recently from Dr. Sibrina Collins, an inorganic chemist and a STEM administrator, who thought Dr. Marie Maynard Daly deserved a profile. As with so many of the people I discovered or brought to my attention, Dr. Daly was new to me, and as Dr. Collins states in her email, she is more than worthy of a column. 

Along with her email, Dr. Collins forwarded an eight-minute documentary, a very well-done video, featuring Dr. Daly’s granddaughter, Carly Reid. “While she was obviously a serious scientist, there was another side to her that was witty and funny. She was incredibly charismatic,” Reid said. 

Marie Maynard Daly was born on April 16, 1921, in Corona, Queens, New York, and attended Hunter College High School, a laboratory high school for girls conducted by faculty members of Hunter College. Backed by her science-minded father and encouragement by her teachers, she enrolled at Queens College, which was near her home and allowed her to save money. An outstanding student, she graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1942. As one of the top graduates, she was named a Queens College Scholar.

With World War ll underway, there was a need for scientists to support the war effort and this opened opportunities for her to receive scholarships for graduate study at New York University and Columbia University, where she earned her master’s and Ph.D. degrees, respectively. These degrees were completed while she was working as a lab assistant and tutor at Queens College. “And she didn’t stop here,” said Dr. Collins in the brief film. “She was hired at Howard University and later joined Alfred Mirsky’s group at the Rockefeller Institute in the study of cell nuclei.” 

This began  a seven-year venture where she examined how proteins are constructed in the body, at a time when the structure and function of DNA was still a mystery. Subsequently, by 1960, in collaboration with Quentin Deming, she became an assistant professor of biochemistry and of medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University. She held this position while she was an investigator for the American Heart Association. 

Her scientific endeavors did not preclude her from assuring that more minority students would be enrolled in professional and graduate academic programs, which made her an indispensable force in conceiving and running a program for their inclusion.  She was promoted to associate professor in 1971. Four years later, Dr. Daly was one of 30 minority women to attend a conference studying the challenges facing women of color in STEM fields hosted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. From this activity came a report “The Double Bind: The Price of Being a Minority Woman in Science.” 

Among her several roles beyond the laboratory was her membership on the board of governors of the New York Academy of Sciences, and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Cancer Society.  She was honored as a career scientist by the Health Research Council of the City of New York. 

Dr. Daly retired in 1986 from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and in 1988 established a scholarship for African-American chemistry and physics majors at Queens College in memory of her father. In 1999, she was recognized by the National Technical Association as one of the top 50 women in Science, Engineering, and Technology.

There is no way one article will suffice in capturing her scientific research that touched on such areas as histones, protein synthesis, muscle cells, hypertension, cancer, and cholesterol. 

Of her personal life, very little information is available, though we do know her father, Ivan, migrated from the British West Indies, worked as a postal clerk, and married Helen Page. They lived in New York City, probably Queens, where Dr. Daly was born. She died on Oct. 28, 2003.

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