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  • Writer's pictureKimberly Belfer

To Know a Name in History

A photograph is a snapshot in time, a way for us to remember that something happened and someone was there. What happens when a photo is taken, names are archived, but someone is forgotten? That's exactly what happened to one biologist who went unnamed and unidentified for nearly fifty years. Not only that, she happened to be the only black and only woman present in the photo.

At the time the photo was taken, Sheila Minor Huff was an animal technician for the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and was attending the International Conference on the Biology of Whales in Virginia. Not only was her face obscured by the gentleman standing in front of her, but every other male colleague in the photo was named. Although it was never her life's work to be recognized for her presence at that conference, someone else found the photo and questioned who she was and why she was there.

During Black History Month, as we highlight some popular and less well-known names in marine biology, we want to highlight Sheila Minor Huff, not only as a black woman pioneer in the field, but also for proudly attending a conference that most people would have kept her from attending prior to 1971. With the onset of the Civil Rights Movement, black men and women were taking up positions in fields of study they had never dared to before, since they were dominated by mostly while men.

Ms. Sheila, now 71 years old, has long since retired from marine biology, but her legacy lives on, not just in the photo, but in her work with various agencies including the Department of Interior. As a woman who held a degree, at a time when very few women or women of color could attend a college or university, she said no to working as a typist for the Bureau of Sports Fisheries and Wildlife because she wanted to do something more meaningful with all the knowledge she had accumulated through school.

You can find more about Sheila Minor Huff and her work with marine biology by following this link: SHEILA

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