Jeanette E. Brown
Organic medicinal chemist Jeanette Brown is also a historian, author, and advocate for increasing diversity in science.
Brown was one of two African Americans in the Hunter College chemistry program’s inaugural class from which she earned her bachelor’s degree in 1956. Continuing her education she received her master’s degree in organic chemistry two years later from the University of Minnesota, making her the first African American woman to do so.
Among some of the first African American female chemists to integrate two different pharmaceutical companies she became a pioneer in her field. Starting her career at CIBA, now Novaris, as a junior chemist she was part of the research program for drug development that targeted tuberculosis, which was dropped for lack of funding. The next assignment was an animal health project focused on coccidiosis, a disease that is caused by protozoan parasites developing in the intestines of birds and most domestic and wild animals. In order to be able to destroy the parasite Brown’s team developed a drug that could be added cheaply to chicken feed.
Hired by Merck because of her expertise with coccidiosis she was not allowed to work on it for three years due to restrictions from CIBA. As soon as that time was up she returned to her research on the parasite and her research group produced a new treatment. Brown also worked on the development of Primaxin a broad spectrum antibiotic that is still in use today. After 25 years at Merck she became a faculty member at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, retiring in 2002.
Knowing the importance of sharing the history of African-Americans in the sciences she has contributed biographical profiles to the African American National Biography Project and in 2011 published the book African American Women Chemists which shares the struggles to obtain an education and the efforts to succeed of 25 distinguished scientists.
Brown has been an advocate for diversity in science serving on the National Science Foundation Committee on Equal Opportunities for Woman, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities and as the historian of the American Chemical Society’s Women Chemist Committee.
Written by Angela Goad