Marie Daly was born on April 16, 1921, in Queens, New York. She was raised in an education-oriented family that believed strongly in the power of education. Her father, Ivan C. Daly, had emigrated from the West Indies as a young man and enrolled at Cornell University to study chemistry. A lack of money blocked his path, however, and he was forced to quit college and returned to New York City where he found work as a postal clerk. Her mother, Helen, grew up in Washington, D.C. and loved reading to her daughter especially books that were about science and scientists.
After graduating from Hunter College High School, an all-girls institution in New York City, Marie attended Queens College in Flushing, New York. She graduated with honors in 1942, and to get around the fact that she didn’t have much money for graduate school, landed work as a lab assistant at her old college as well as a hard-earned fellowship. Both were instrumental in helping her to cover the costs of getting a graduate degree in chemistry from New York University.
Marie didn’t waste time in completing her studies. She finished her master’s degree in just a year and then, in 1944, enrolled at Columbia University as a doctoral student. Columbia’s chemistry program was being led by Dr. Mary L. Caldwell, a renowned scientist who helped blaze new trails for women in chemistry throughout her career. At Columbia, Marie took to the lab, studying how the body’s chemicals help digest food. She finished her doctorate—unknowingly making history as the first female African American to receive a Ph.D. in chemistry in the United States—in 1947.
After completing her doctoral degree Daly taught for two years at Howard University in Washington, DC. On receiving a grant from the American Cancer Society to support her postdoctoral research, she joined Alfred E. Mirsky, a pioneer in molecular biology, at the Rockefeller Institute in New York, where for seven years she worked on the composition and metabolism of components of the cell nucleus, among other studies.
In 1955, Marie returned to Columbia, working closely with Dr. Quentin B. Deming on the causes of heart attacks. Their groundbreaking work, which was later relocated to the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University in New York, disclosed the relationship between high cholesterol and clogged arteries. That work opened up a new understanding of how foods and diet can affect the health of the heart and the circulatory system. Marie also taught biochemistry courses. Recognizing the importance of her own career path, She championed efforts to get students of color enrolled in medical schools and graduate science programs. In 1988, she started a scholarship, in honor of her father, for minority students who want to study science at Queens College.
Marie retired from Albert Einstein College in 1986. Her many honors included induction into Phi Beta Kappa as well as being a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Marie married Vincent Clark in 1961. She died in New York City on October 28, 2003.