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Jeannette Brown

Organic chemist and historian, Jeannette E. Brown was born in Bronx, New York on May 13, 1934 to Freddie Brown, a building superintendant and Ada Brown. At age six, Brown was inspired by her family doctor, Arthur C. Logan, to pursue a career in science. Brown graduated from New Dorp High School on Staten Island in 1952 and in 1956, she received her B.S. degree in chemistry from Hunter College as one of two African Americans in the first class of Hunter College's new chemistry program. Brown then earned her M.S. degree in organic chemistry in 1958 from the University of Minnesota and was the first African American female to do so. Her thesis was entitled, “Study of Dye and Ylide Formation in Salts of 9-(P-dimethylaminophenyl) Flourene.”

After earning her M.S. degree, Brown joined CIBA Pharmaceutical Company as a research chemist, where she developed drugs for diseases such as tuberculosis and coccidiosis, which afflicts chickens. In 1969, Brown was hired by Merck & Co. Research Laboratories where she continued synthesizing compounds for testing as potential new drugs. In 1986, she was appointed chairperson of the Project SEED Committee for the American Chemical Society. She served on the faculty at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) from 1993 to 2002 as a visiting professor of chemistry and faculty associate. Beginning in 1998, Brown also served as the regional director of the New Jersey Statewide System Initiative, improving science education in Essex and Hudson counties. In 2008, Brown contributed seven biographies of African American chemists for the African American National Biography, including those of Dr. Marie Daly and Dr. Jennie Patrick, the first African American women to receive their Ph.D. degrees in chemistry and chemical engineering, respectively. She went on to publish her own book in 2011 entitled, African American Women Chemists .

Brown has received recognition including outstanding alumni awards from both Hunter College and the University of Minnesota. Throughout her career, she has been involved in countless professional societies including the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCCHE) and the American Chemical Society (ACS). In 2007, Brown was an Association of Women in Science (AWIS) fellow. She also earned recognition as an American Chemical Society fellow and a Chemical Heritage Foundation Ullyott Scholar.

Jeannette Brown was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on January 16, 2012.

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New Dorp High School

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University of Minnesota

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National Science Foundation


New York

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101 years ago.

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New Jersey

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Ice Cream

Short Description

Organic chemist Jeannette Brown (1934 - ) is the first African American woman to earn an M.S. degree from the University of Minnesota's chemistry department and is the author of, 'African American Women Chemists'.


CIBA Pharmaceutical Company

Merck & Co.

New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT)

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Timing Pairs

<a href="">Tape: 1 Slating of Jeannette Brown's interview</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Jeannette Brown lists her favorites</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Jeannette Brown describes her mother's history</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Jeannette Brown talks about her mother's education and work experience</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Jeannette Brown describes her father's history</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Jeannette Brown talks about racism in North Carolina</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Jeannette Brown discusses her father's education and work experience</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Jeannette Brown describes her parents' early life together</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Jeannette Brown describes her relationship with her parents</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Jeannette Brown talks about her relationship with her father</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Jeannette Brown remembers the her early childhood years</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Jeannette Brown talks about having tuberculosis and her early interest in science</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Jeannette Brown reminisces about her early school days in New York, New York</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Jeannette Brown talks about Winthrop Junior High School and growing up in New York's Flatbush area</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Jeannette Brown remembers her time at Prospect Heights High School and New Dorp High School</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Jeannette Brown talks about her study of science in high school</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Jeannette Brown talks about preparing for college and deciding which college to attend</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Jeannette Brown talks about studying chemistry at Hunter College</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Jeannette Brown talks about why she chose to attend graduate school at the University of Minnesota</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Jeannette Brown discusses her research and her discovery of liquid crystals</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Jeannette Brown remembers the racial climate in Minnesota in 1958</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Jeannette Brown describes attitudes about blacks and women at University of Minnesota in the 1950s</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Jeannette Brown talks about her days in the laboratory at Ciba Pharmaceuticals</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Jeannette Brown talks about the history of the United States chemical industry</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Jeannette Brown tells about her career at Merck Pharmaceuticals</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Jeannette Brown describes her work on Primaxin at Merck Pharmaceuticals</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Jeannette Brown reflects on her work as a chemist in the pharmaceutical industry</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Jeannette Brown talks about NOBCChE, Dr. Marie Daley, and her interest in history</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Jeannette Brown talks about her difficulty at Merck Pharmaceuticals, including an adverse physical reaction</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Jeannette Brown describes the atmosphere at Merck Pharmaceuticals and mentoring other black female chemists</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Jeannette Brown talks about her work at Merck Pharmaceuticals to attract more African Americans chemists</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Jeannette Brown talks about students she met at Grambling State University</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Jeannette Brown talks about her induction into Iota Sigma Pi Honor Society</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Jeannette Brown talks about her work with the American Chemical Society and economically disadvantaged youth</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Jeannette Brown talks about her work with the National Science Foundation</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Jeannette Brown discusses the Percy Julian Task Force and the research for her book</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Jeannette Brown talks about the female scientists featured in her book about Africaa American Female Chemists</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Jeannette Brown shares the response to her book and need for science education</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Jeannette Brown talks about the need for quality science education</a>

<a href="">Tape: 7 Jeannette Brown reflects on the ethical responsibility of chemists</a>

<a href="">Tape: 7 Jeannette Brown talks about her hopes and concerns for the African American community</a>

<a href="">Tape: 7 Jeannette Brown reflects on her career, her successes, and her legacy</a>

<a href="">Tape: 7 Jeannette Brown talks about her family life</a>

<a href="">Tape: 7 Jeannette Brown talks about her hobbies</a>

<a href="">Tape: 7 Jeannette Brown tells how she would like to be remembered</a>

<a href="">Tape: 7 Jeannette Brown shares photos</a>







Jeannette Brown talks about having tuberculosis and her early interest in science
Jeannette Brown tells about her career at Merck Pharmaceuticals
Okay, now, tell me if I'm moving ahead too fast, but I know at a certain juncture, you got sick, right? And --$$Oh, yeah, when I was a little--okay, we, as I might have said, we lived in Washington Heights, New York [New York], and we lived at 436 West 160th Street. And that's where my father [Freddie Brown] was super. At age four or five, I got very ill, and they put me in the hospital. Columbia University Medical School [New York, New York] had a place called Vanderbilt Clinic which is up in Washington Heights, where we used to go all the time. One of the doctors there, and I think, as I look back on it, Arthur Logan, he was an intern there at that time. But he lived in the house that we lived in. And so he was my doctor. They put me in Babies Hospital [Babies and Children's Hospital of New York, New York, New York]. I remember being in a crib. I thought I was in jail (laughter). I think I saw all the bars around me. And so when I got better, I think what I had was living in New York, I had Infantile TB [Tuberculosis]. I think that's what I had. But anyway, so living in New York, when I saw Dr. Logan later on, 'cause he lived in my building, I said, "Well, how do you become a scientist?" And, oh, no, "How do you become a doctor?" He said, "Oh, you study science," you know. And I have a picture, in fact, when I saw the five year olds at the Science Museum the other day, I said, Ah, they were that small and so was I. You know, I looked up at him, and I said, "Okay." And I decided that, yeah, Science was something that I'm gonna learn because I wanted to be a doctor like Dr. Logan.$$Now, was Dr. Logan a black doctor?$$Um-hum.$$Okay.$$Yeah, Arthur Logan. There is a wing of Harlem Hospital [Harlem Hospital Center, New York, New York] named for him.$$Okay.$$I now talk to his--Adele Logan was his daughter, and they lived in the house. And she was about two or three years younger than I am. And we've met as adults. And I've got a, I've got to tell her that my book is out. I have, you know, because I've met, I've talked to her since. And she's a writer too.$$Okay, Adele--$$Adele Logan, yeah.$$Okay.$$Adele, I'm wanna think of what her married name is, oh, Adele Logan Alexander. That's her married name.$$What kind of books does she write?$$She wrote history. She's a historian. And she wrote her family history in, on her mother's side, not on her father's side.$$Okay, all right, all right. Okay, so then were you consciously thinking of concentrating on Science when you were in school then, as a result of that?$$Yeah, somehow or other, it's--I don't know. He [Dr. Arthur Logan] must have made an impression on me, and I decided, oh, yes, Science sounds like fun. The, where we lived in forty--in the Washington Heights, the library was right across the street. So I would go there for story hour. And my mother would take me across the street. It was, it wasn't a very big, you know, big street with a lot of traffic. And we'd go for story hour. And later on in years, I would go to the library, I started looking up books about what they called space at the time because there was no space travel. And as we moved from house to house 'cause my father, as I said, would get the job as a superintendent. And that included an apartment. So when he would lose that job, he would get to another job. We went to the Bronx [New York], and when I was in third grade. And I remember this, in third-grade class that I lived in--that I had there, was the Science room. So I sat right next to the fish, the goldfish bowl. I had goldfish too that I worked on as a Scientist. I think I killed 'em. And so we moved to the Bronx, and then the next job was in Brooklyn [New York]. So we moved to Brooklyn, and I was still interested in Science and things like that. So we had two jobs in Brooklyn that my father, you know, my father was the superintendent, the super's kid. And, but I was still, you know, I wanted to learn, and I wanted to be a scientist because I wanted to be a doctor. So I was always interested in, you know, learning everything there was to learn. One of the reasons why we moved out of Manhattan to the Bronx was the first grade--well, I, we skipped kindergarten.$$$Okay, well, tell us about Merck?$$Yeah, well, one of the reasons why I got to Merck was one of the women who worked with me in Ciba, her husband was a manager at Merck. And he was--this was, the Civil Rights Act had come. He was mandated to go out and look for African Americans in Science. Well, I said, well, I wanted to change jobs. So I was talking to my girlfriend, and she says, "Oh, I'll ask my husband." And so she did. And he brought me in for an interview. And they really wanted me. They wanted me, I guess, also because of my--I had, by that time I had some publications, I guess, from Ciba or pretty close and my expertise. But when I looked, later on when I looked at my personnel file, which I could, the very first page, which they forgot to take off, said, "to be filled by an African American", and I went "Umm". And the woman who was showing it to me happened to be, the personnel, head of personnel, an African American woman chemist. And she, she nearly died that they had forgotten to take that page out, the first page. But anyway, so I was hired at Merck. And all the guys said, oh, well, you came in as a legacy because of the Civil Rights. And, no, I came because of my, you know, my credentials, you know. I could do independent research, and while I was there I did. I mean what I liked about Merck was they would give me a project, and, you know, we all work in teams. So I would be, I would have a piece of the project that the team was going to work on. And you're gonna work, mostly I liked to do cyclopropyl compounds 'cause I had done that at Ciba. And so, okay, you'll do the cyclopropyl derivative. And so I would go off and study how to make this compound and come up with a plan and try to implement the plan. We would get together in group meetings and I'd get some advice from my bosses or the other members of the group. But most of the time in the lab, we were just doing our own thing. When we got together with a group, then they would say, okay, do this, do that, do other things. Once we got a target and a compound, then we'd just go do it and come up with it--and later on in our career, we started to have deadlines because it was management by objectives. And so we had to have objectives and by the year--by the third quarter, we will have, and by the fourth quarter, we will have. And we needed to have compounds ready for the biologists to test by Friday. Okay, if my compound is not ready, you know, totally analyzed and ready to go by Friday--well, if I didn't think it was gonna be there by Friday, I, you know, just worked, you know. You'd go in the labs, you know, 24 hours or whatever, Saturday, Sunday or whatever, to get the job done 'cause I had to have it there for the biologist who was gonna do the tests. And he was ready with--and he or she were ready with their animals or whatever they want to test it on.$$Okay, what kinds of things did you work on--well, let me pause here for a second. And then we'll pick up after--.