July 13, 2024

Mary Maynard Daly


This archived article was written by: Nathaniel Woodward

Dear Bridgette,
Science is hard, no doubt about it. It is easy to get caught up in the idea of something rather than in the reality of it. However, just because something is hard doesn’t mean you cannot do it; the harder things often end up being the most worthwhile. The concepts of science are fascinating and relatively easy to memorize while the actual work behind those concepts disenchants many who begin to study them. Pushing through the frustration of mastering the little processes that make a field understandable may be one of the most difficult things you have to do.
An Italian-American philosopher named Vince Lambardi said, “The team that runs the best and blocks the best wins the game.” It’s not the 100-yard touchdown run that wins, its the inch by inch you gain that allows for the greatest successes to be made a reality.
In the mid 20th century, a young student with dreams of becoming a chemist enrolled at Cornell University to study and fell in love with that amazing field. Unfortunately, because of the high cost of an education, he quit school and took a full-time job to support his family. Seeing a father experience losing his dream to study science hits home to me. I’ve spent many sleepless nights buried in books to make sure that doesn’t happen.
This man had a daughter named Mary Maynard Daly who saw her father’s shattered hopes and dreams, fought diligently to overcome the frustrations of studying, low finances and balancing her time against the demands of life to receive her degree. While this isn’t unique, what getting her degree meant and what she contributed shows how early struggles can pay off big.
After Daly’s undergraduate work in chemistry, she began graduate school, remarkably finishing her master’s degree in only a year. Under the supervision of another great scientist, a nutritionist named Dr. Mary L. Caldwell, Daly was awarded the first chemistry doctorate in history for an African American Woman. Her later research was critical in our understanding of how cholesterol contributes to the risk of heart attacks. Something that seems so simple now was revolutionary for science then.
Next in Daly’s career, she helped establish the link between cigarette smoking and lung damage. Imagine the lives she saved due to just that research — and she is not done yet. In my view, her greatest contribution is her skill in teaching young students and instilling in them a deep love for academics and science. She was affiliated with several universities and scientific institutions over her life, most notably as a biochemistry professor at the prestigious Albert Einstein School of Medicine (Yeshiva University) in New York, where she fostered the imagination and innovation of future leaders in the medical field. Her dedication showed how that, inch by inch, year by year, hard work and determination, even in a world dominated with prejudice, can change everything.
Being able to think outside the box, to take a step back and observe a problem then come back with an incredible, innovative solution will forever be Daly’s legacy. The namesake of her University, Albert Einstein once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” If you ever get stuck on a problem in life, remember to take a step back and use your imagination. Your mind is indescribably useful when you get creative.