By Christopher T. Matthews
Toledo Lucas County Public Library and the Association for Women in Science sponsored a book signing event and presentation to bridge Black Month and Women’s History month on Thursday, March 3, 2016, featuring Jeanette Brown, African American author and organic chemist. She is a native of New York, graduating from Hunters College and she was the first African American female to receive her Master of Science degree, in organic chemistry, from University of Minnesota.
Her presentation was based upon her current book, published in 2011, “African American Women Chemists, covering 1865 to 1965 civil war. She discussed the difficulties and challenges of breaking into the field of chemistry being an African American and especially a woman, after the civil war. Her second book will be entitled, “African American Women Chemists Hiding in Plain Sight”. It will cover how women benefitted from all the marvelous things that manifested from the civil rights act.
Ms. Brown continued with the history of why many of the HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) were formed because of the racism. “Many African American men and women could teach at HBCUs with just a bachelor degree in science, in opposition to not being able to teach with PhDs in predominantly white institutions in the North. African Americans with PhDs were sometimes allowed to teach in high schools. After WWI and WWII the industry didn’t hire many African Americans,” she said.
Fortunately, she was hired by a company, back in 1958 before the Civil Rights Act, formerly known as Ciba, now known as Novartis. Ciba was a Swiss owned company and. she attributes the reason why they hired her was because of executive orders imposed on the integration of races in labs and obviously they were upholding them.
She explained that much of her experience and the women that she has worked with are in her book. She gathered an oral history from the ones that were still alive, information about their mother and father, whether or not they were raised in the Jim Crow south, and things of that nature, as well as, questions that focused on what lead them into the field of chemistry. As for the deceased she did vast amounts of research, most being done in the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, NY, because it was hard to find information about African American Women in chemistry.
Dr. Joanna Hinton, chair of Toledo Branch of the American Chemical Society, and organizer of the event, said that, this is their event, as a partnership with Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, to bring in science based authors. The organization scheduled Ms. Brown to speak at the to show how successful women in chemistry can be in all races, colors and creeds.
Receiving numerous, amounts of recognition, throughout her career, Ms. Brown has published the only book on African American Women Chemists. “We invited her because we, as chemists, understand that it is difficult to be a woman in chemistry, not mention the challenges of minority women, who are chemists, and what they have to face when striving to advance in the field of chemistry,” said Dr. Hinton.
Concluding, Dr. Patricia A. Hogue, Associate Dean of Diversity at the University of Toledo College of Medicine, stated, “This is an absolutely phenomenal event, especially because, she is a chemist, and in that day and time, it was rare, for a woman, let alone an African American, to pursue chemistry as their career. So, it is admirable to see someone go to school and successfully finish in the field of chemistry. I am impressed and have had the opportunity to spend a few hours with her. She shared with me, great words of wisdom that I am deeply grateful to have received. “