Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler
In 1864, Rebecca Lee Crumpler became the first Black woman to become a doctor of medicine in the United States. After earning her degree and after the Civil War ended in 1865, Crumpler worked with other Black physicians to care for freed slaves who would have otherwise not had access to medical care. In 1883, she published a book on medical advice for women and children. This was one of the first medical publications by an African American.
American Mathematician & Engineer
Mary Jackson was the first Black woman engineer at NASA. She started her career with NASA at the West Area Computing unit—a unit made up of Black female mathematicians. Her and her colleagues’ calculations were essential to the success of many NASA projects. The women’s work at the West Area Computing unit was later depicted in the 2016 movie ‘Hidden Figures’.
After working at the West Area Computing unit, Jackson received her engineering degree in 1958. She worked as an engineer at NASA until 1979. She was also instrumental in increasing opportunities for women at NASA.
Dr. Gladys West
American Mathematician, Computer Scientist
After earning a Master’s Degree in Mathematics, Dr. Gladys West was hired as a programmer at the Dahlgren, Virginia Naval Base in 1956. She was the second Black woman to be hired as a programmer and was one of four Black employees at the Naval Base. At the Naval Base, she worked on multiple ground-breaking projects including the Seasat radar, which proved that satellites are capable of monitoring the ocean. West is also recognized as programming the mathematics that led to the development of the modern day GPS.
Dr. Ashanti Johnson
Geochemist and Chemical Oceanographer
Dr. Ashanti Johnson (previously Ashanti Johnson-Pyrtle) is one of the first Black women Oceanographers and was the first African American to receive a doctoral degree in chemical oceanography from Texas A&M. Her research specializes in aquatic radio geochemistry and focuses on identifying biogeochemical indicators to understand the impact of past events on marine, estuarine, and freshwater environments in the Arctic. She is also a strong advocate and researcher of professional development and STEM opportunities for underserved communities, which earned her the PAESMEM Award in 2010 (Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering). She also leads the MSPHD’S Institute (The Minorities Striving and Pursuing Higher Degrees of Success in Earth System Science).
Dr. Latanya Sweeney
Computer Scientist, Professor
Like the other women on this list, Latanya’s Sweeney’s accomplishments are vast and impressive. She earned an undergraduate degree in Computer Science from Harvard University and went on to become the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D. in Computer Science from MIT. Sweeney is also the former Chief Technology Officer at the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
She is also known as a pioneer in the field of Data Privacy and has numerous academic publications about data privacy. Her research on re-identification guided policies in the U.S. federal medical HIPAA Privacy Rule. She is the founder and director of the Data Privacy Lab at Harvard. In 2021, she became the Director of the Public Interest Tech Lab, which aims to help scholars uncover better ways for the government and society to use new technologies. Additionally, she founded the emerging area known as algorithmic fairness, which looks at discrimination in online algorithms.