In 1947, Marie Maynard Daly made history by becoming the first African American woman to receive a doctorate in chemistry in the U.S. Her groundbreaking research disclosed the relationship between high cholesterol and clogged arteries and increased our understanding of how foods and diet affect the health of the heart and the circulatory system. As a researcher, Daly also conducted early work on protein synthesis and creatine’s uptake by muscle cells, something that was little understood at the time. In addition to her work in the laboratory, Daly also developed programs to increase the number of minorities in medical schools and graduate programs, making her an inspiration to minority students in her time and even present day. In 1988, she established a scholarship fund at Queens College for African Americans in commemoration of her father. Born in 1921, Daly passed away in 2003.
Daly enrolled in the doctoral program at Columbia University after working for a year tutoring chemistry students at Queens College. It was 1943 and the combination of labor shortages and the need for scientists to support the war effort enabled Daly to garner academic support normally not afforded to women and minorities at the time. Daly obtained funding from Columbia and began to work under the direction of Mary L. Caldwell, the first and only female senior faculty member at Columbia for a number of years. Caldwell is credited in a few of the available biographies with encouraging Daly to focus on studying aspects of digestion, and the title of Daly's dissertation reflects Caldwell's intellectual influence: “A Study of the Products Formed by the Action of Pancreatic Amylase on Corn Starch.” In 1947, Daly was awarded her Doctor of Philosophy degree in chemistry, only three years after enrolling in the program.
In 1955, Daly returned to Columbia, this time as a top researcher in her field. She began working in the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia, dividing her time as a teacher and researcher at her alma mater. During this period she began to work closely with Dr. Quentin B. Deming to determine the causes of heart attacks. Their groundbreaking work disclosed the relationship between high cholesterol and clogged arteries, thus establishing a legacy for Daly and Columbia as agents of positive change.