ACS to honor Bettye Washington Greene with National Historic Chemical Landmark designation


23 Oct 2023

WASHINGTON, Oct. 20, 2023 — Bettye Washington Greene was a pioneer. In 1965, when she began her career as a research scientist at The Dow Chemical Company (Dow) in Midland, Michigan, she became the first female Black American Ph.D. chemist hired in the chemical industry. The American Chemical Society (ACS) will honor her achievements with the National Historic Chemical Landmark designation during an Oct. 27 ceremony at Wayne State University in Detroit.
“Bettye Washington Greene’s tenure at Dow opened the doors for other researchers of color. Celebrating her achievements is particularly meaningful as we consider the challenges that she must have encountered at that point of our history,” says ACS Immediate Past President Angela K. Wilson, who will speak at the dedication ceremony. “Dr. Washington Greene stands as an aspirational role model for all of us — paving the way toward much-needed diversity across the sciences, across the country and across the globe.”

Born in 1935 in Palestine, Texas, Washington Greene (née Washington) grew up in an environment that was in many ways hostile, rigid and determined to keep her from succeeding. But as one of the first female Black commercial chemists in the U.S., Washington Greene didn’t let the racism and sexism of the era hinder her. She overcame these roadblocks to make significant contributions to the field of materials science.

When Washington Greene graduated from high school in the early 1950s, few professional pathways were available for Black women — or for women in general. Mostly, young women were funneled into nursing or teaching careers. Washington Greene wasn’t interested in either career. She moved to Alabama to attend the Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University), a co-educational, historically Black college. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1955. Two months after graduation, she married William Greene, an engineer who trained Tuskegee Airmen.

By the early 1960s, Washington Greene decided she wanted to continue her education. She earned her Ph.D. at Wayne State in 1965. In doing so, she became the fifth Black woman to earn a doctorate in chemistry in the U.S. Later that year, Washington Greene was recruited by Dow. She was the first Black female research scientist on the company’s staff. In fact, she was the first female Black American Ph.D. chemist hired by any chemical company.

Washington Greene’s research at Dow on light scattering techniques, latexes and other subjects contributed to innovations in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, paints, coatings and catalysts. In the course of her work, she was issued three patents.

Washington Greene retired from Dow in 1990. She died on June 16, 1995, at the age of 60.

The Oct. 27 Landmark dedication will be held from 2 to 6 p.m. EDT at Wayne State. The program will include the Second Annual Bettye Washington Greene Endowed Memorial Lecture; the designation ceremony, featuring remarks by representatives from Wayne State, Dow and the Washington Greene family; and a discussion and short film about Washington Greene's life and contributions to science.

Wayne State will host a livestream of the ceremony starting at 2 p.m. EDT via the following link:

Contact: ACS


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