Trailblazing Women You May Not Know (But Should): Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson
Each week, the Lean In tumblr will spotlight women who made a lasting mark on the world — yet didn’t always end up in the history books. This week we celebrate Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, the first black woman to earn a doctorate in nuclear physics from MIT.
When she was four years old, Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson told her mom she already knew what people would call her some day: "Shirley the Great." She was right.
Dr. Jackson was born in Washington D.C. in 1946 and quickly developed a passion for science. Her father encouraged her interest, telling her to "aim for the stars so that you can reach the treetops and at least you’ll get off the ground."
In 1964 Dr. Jackson started her freshman year at MIT, where she was one of fewer than twenty African American students and the only one studying theoretical physics. She later told Science Magazine that men weren’t the only ones who made her feel alienated. “The irony is that the white girls weren’t particularly working with me, either,” Dr. Jackson said. ”I had to work alone and I went through a down period. But you have to decide you will persist in what you’re doing and that you won’t let people beat you down.” She didn’t. She soon became the first African American woman to earn a doctorate from MIT in nuclear physics.