February is Black History Month. Historically, culturally, and institutionally, the contributions to the scientific world from scientists of color have been marginalized. Their stories are often missing in the narrative of history. To observe Black History Month and to promote scientists of color, we are highlighting Black scientists who contributed to our collective understanding of nature around the world and in our backyards. Today, we’re taking a closer look at Dr. Roger Arliner Young (1899-1964).
Dr. Roger Arliner Young’s story is one of personal strength. She entered Howard College in Washington D.C. in 1916 initially to study music. She began her story with science in 1921, when she took her first zoology course at Howard. Ernest Everett Just, a prominent Black biologist and head of the Zoology Department, saw her potential and hired her as faculty after her graduation in 1923. In her graduation yearbook she wrote “not failure but low aim is a crime.” With these words and her passion for learning, Young quickly became a bright light in the academic scientific community. In 1924, she published her first scientific article, “On the Excretory Apparatus in Paramecium”, in the journal Science, also becoming the first Black woman to publish in this journal from her field. That same year, Young entered the University of Chicago to pursue a master’s degree in zoology. While there, she was invited to join Sigma Xi, an international honor society for scientists. This was a special honor for a master’s student, as this distinction was usually reserved for doctoral students.
Following her master’s degree, Young continued to pursue her education at the University of Chicago and research with marine organisms, while continuing to maintain her roles working with Just at Howard. At one point while pursuing her doctoral research, she also continued an assistant professorship and served as the acting head of the zoology department at Howard in Washington D.C., essentially orchestrating an entire university science department whenever Just’s work took him away from the university. Along with these heavy responsibilities, Young dealt with gender bias and racism. Step by step, she continued to persevere in the study of science and in life, creating new trails for others to follow. She ultimately completed her doctorate in zoology at the University of Pennsylvania in 1940 and went on to continue teaching for the remainder of her career and became active in the civil rights movement. She is remembered as a dedicated scientist of zoology, biology, and marine biology and the first Black woman to earn a PhD in zoology.
Bringing Science Home
Let’s draw! Click here to download our Drawing from Collections handout and practice your scientific drawing skills while exploring some cool aquatic and geologic specimens.
Additional Resources & Sources
How a brilliant biologist was failed by science. BBC. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200930-arliner-young-the-black-biologist-failed-by-science
Young, Roger Arliner 1899-1964. Encyclopedia.com. https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/young-roger-arliner-1899-1964
Celebrating Women in STEM: Dr. Roger Arliner Young. U-News. Feb 1, 2018. https://info.umkc.edu/unews/celebrating-women-in-stem-dr-roger-arliner-young/
Roger Arliner Young, Zoology. The Urban Scientist. Scientific American. Feb 14, 2012. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/urban-scientist/roger-arliner-young-zoologist/