Celebrating Black History Month | Marie Clark Taylor | Desert Botanical Garden


Celebrating Black History Month DBG

Marie Clark Taylor (1911-1990)

Marie Clark Taylor was the first African American woman to receive a Ph.D in botany from Fordham University. She also served as the department head at Howard University for many years. During her career, Taylor created science institutes for high school teachers to share new ways to teach science. She encouraged teachers to adopt her innovative methods, such as using real botanical material and light-microscopes to study living cells. She was selected by President Lyndon B. Johnson to expand her work and bring her teaching style world-wide.

Taylor was born in Pennsylvania in 1911. She graduated from Dunbar High School with honors in 1929, she earned her B.S. and M.S. at Howard University. Taylor went on to teach high school in the 30s and 40s, while teaching she enrolled in the doctoral studies program at Fordham University, where she was a member the Scientific Research Society’s Sigma Xi. In 1941, she became the first woman of any race to receive a scientific doctorate from Fordham when she received her Ph.D. in botany, cum laude. Her research was in photomorphogenesis, the influence of light on plant growth.  Taylor died on on December 28, 1990 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Marie Clark Taylor’s accomplishments, which includes many “firsts,” is a testament to her undying passion and love for science and education.  That there are so many firsts reminds us of how difficult it was for women, especially women of color, to pursue careers in science. Dr. Taylor’s life and accomplishments also remind us of the importance of encouraging and including as diverse a group as possible in not only the sciences, but also all other endeavors. How different would our world be had societies allowed more women, including women of color, to pursue sciences, contributing different perspectives and ideas so needed to understand a world of amazing complexity? We need to encourage and include women in the sciences now as ever before.  The work of Dr. Taylor and other passionate, brave women will continue to inspire others going forward.

Wendy Hodgson, M.S.

Herbarium Curator Emerita Senior Research Botanist, Desert Botanical Garden