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Celebrating Women in Science

In 1920, the 19th amendment granted women the right to vote and propelled society towards progress in social and economic equality. In honor of this monumental 100-year anniversary, the College of Life Sciences is proud to showcase some of the women who have made valuable contributions to the life sciences. This is the first section of a two-part series celebrating history by honoring women who have greatly impacted the world.

Earlene Durrant

Taking scraps from the trash can in the men's training room, Earlene Durrant taped female athlete's ankles in a small corner of the women's locker room. As the first female athletic trainer at BYU, she committed to take care of her athletes, even if that meant creative problem-solving. The challenges she hurdled strengthened her drive to advocate for female athletes and develop the athletic training program at BYU.


  • Developed BYU's undergraduate, master's, and doctorate athletic training programs.
  • Ensured equal opportunities for female athletes and female athletic trainers.
  • Was one of the first five women certified by the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA).
  • Was the first female athletic trainer at BYU.

Fun Fact

When Earlene became full-time faculty at BYU, she was the only faculty member who had taped a female athlete' ankle.

Jane Cooke Wright

During a time when racial segregation was strictly enforced and the civil rights movement was growing, Jane Cooke Wright and her father changed the face of cancer treatment to benefit the entire human race. Working together at the Cancer Research Center at Harlem Hospital which her father established, they began their research with the end goal to address the accessibility and effectiveness of chemotherapy for all races.


  • Developed new ways to administer chemotherapy, including the methotrexate drug that continues to treat breast cancer today.
  • Proved that nitrogen-mustard agents could treat previously incurable cancers like leukemia and lymphoma.
  • Helped found the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
  • Served in the President's Commission on Heart Disease, Cancer, and Stroke.

Fun Fact:

Jane was the highest-ranking African American woman at a medical institution and the first woman elected president of the New York Cancer Society.

Ayana Elizabeth Johnson

Just off the coast of Key West, five-year-old Ayana Elizabeth Johnson fell in love when she saw coral reef for the first times. the magnificence of the ocean inspired her fierce dedication to preserve all life found under its surface, leading to her career in marine biology. Johnson believes the ocean will be fine without us, but we will not be fine without the ocean.


  • Invented a fish trap that reduces by-catch, allowing the unmarketable species and juvenile fish to escape; she received the National Geographic Solution Search award for her intervention.
  • Founded and served as CEO of Ocean Collective, a consulting firm that promotes using the ocean without abusing it.
  • Co-created the Blue New DEal, a roadmap to include the ocean in climate policy.
  • Worked for March for Science and created a coalition of over 300 organizations to support the role of science in policy making.
Fun Fact:

Ayana's favorite fish is the parrotfish

Sarah Rorer

America's pioneering dietitian, Sarah Tyson Rorer, infused her saucy personality into everything from her classes to her cookbooks. She gained notoriety through her frank approach to nutrition. She suggested that people should eat salad 365 days a year, that desserts were dubious, and pig products were unfit to consume. She said, "I had no time to eat anything which takes five hours to digest."


  • Opened the Philadelphia Cooking School and served as director of the Philadelphia Chautauqua School of Domestic Science.
  • Traveled across America during World War I to educate families on the importance of food conservation.
  • Authored several cookbooks, including Vegetable Cookery and Meat Substitutes, that illustrates how to cook three meatless meals a day.
  • Worked as an editor for Ladies Home Journal, Table Talk, and Household News.
Fun Fact:

Sarah's notoriety led to a name drop in the Broadway musical Sitting Pretty.

Najla Al-Sonboli

Living in war-stricken Yemen, Najla Al-Sonboli was plagued with horror as she watched children lose parents, fall to illness, suffer from injury, and endure starvation. She expressed, "I love kids, and I can't bear the thought that anything could hurt them. So I decided to work for them." Because of her commitment to the children, she endured dangerous attacks as rockets struck the hospital.


  • Served on the front lines of Yemen's cholera epidemic by caring for patients both inside and outside the hospital boundaries.
  • Worked without pay to care for children while the hospital was under attack.
  • Designated a section of the ER specifically to treat the countless children with Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM).
  • Revived the hospital and replenished resources by connecting with fellow alumni who had the means to help.
Fun Fact:

The World Health Assembly honored Najla as a Heroine of Health

Ynes Mexia

Ynes Mexia began her exploration of plants at the age of 51 and discovered a fulfilling career. Although fieldwork was considered unfeminine at the time, she remained dedicated to making on-site contributions. In the search for plants, she braved earthquakes, poisonous berried, and cliff; and in her life, she braved legal battles, deaths, multiple husbands, and several careers.


  • Identified 500 new plant specimens during one of her first collection trips in Mexico.
  • Has 50 new plants specimens named after her including Mimosa mexiae.
  • Collected 145,000 plant species in South America, Central America, and Alaska.
  • Clarified botanical records and introduced new species to the world.

Fun Fact:

On a collection trip in Mexico, Ynes fell off a cliff and injured her hand, but she still continued working, resulting in the discovery of several new species.

Fanny Hesse

Bacteriologists used kitchen goods like potatoes and coagulated egg whites to cultivate cultures, but Fanny Hesse introduced a new medium. Her Indonesian neighbor showed her agar-agar, a gelatin replacement containing a red-algae extract that remained congealed in the extreme summer heat. Agar-agar proved beneficial in the kitchen as well as for growing bacteria due to the gelatin's ability to withstand sterilization heat.


  • Introduced the use of agar-agar to cultivate bacteria cultures.
  • Unlocked the door to a new age rapid advancements in bacteriology.
  • Helped identify the bacteria that caused tuberculosis

Fun Fact:

Virginia graduated fourth in her class from Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Illustrations by Emily Tribe