Roger A. Young, a groundbreaking zoologist

Sun, 1899-08-20

The birth of Roger Arliner Young in 1899 is celebrated on this date. She was an African American Zoologist. Zoology is the biological discipline which involves the study of animals.

Young was born in Clifton Forge, Virginia, and grew up in Burgettstown, Pennsylvania. In 1916, she entered Howard University. In 1921, she took her first science course, under Ernest Everett Just, a prominent black biologist and head of the zoology department at Howard. Although her grades were poor, Professor Just started mentoring Young. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1923. Her relationship with Just improved her skills and he continued working with her.

Just helped Young find funding to attend graduate school. In 1924, she entered the University of Chicago part-time and her grades improved dramatically. She began publishing her research. Her first article, "On the Excretory Apparatus in Paramecium," appeared in Science Magazine in September 1924. In 1927, after having obtained her master's degree the year before, Just invited Young to work with him during the summers at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Young assisted him with research on the fertilization process in marine organisms.

She also worked on the processes of hydration and dehydration in living cells. Early in 1929, Young stood in for Just as head of the Howard zoology department while he worked on a grant project in Europe. It was the first of many trips to Europe for Just and the first of many stand-in appointments for Young. In the fall of that year, Young returned to Chicago to start her Ph.D. under Frank Lillie. She failed her qualifying exams in January 1930, giving little indication of her stress at the time. She was broke and still had to care for her mother. She left and told no one her whereabouts.

She eventually returned to Howard to teach and continued working at Woods Hole in the summers, but her relationship with Just cooled considerably. Just started easing her out of her position in 1933; there had been rumors about romance between Just and Young. In 1936, she was fired; in June 1937, she went to the University of Pennsylvania to begin a doctorate under L. V. Heilbrunn, earning her Ph.D. in 1940. Young was the first African-American woman to receive a doctorate in zoology.

She took an assistant professorship at the North Carolina College for Negroes in Raleigh. Unfortunately, her mental health failed again. She worked short contracts in Texas and at Jackson State College in Mississippi. While in Mississippi in the late 1950s, she was hospitalized at the State Mental Asylum. She was discharged in 1962 and went to Southern University. She died, poor and alone in New Orleans on November 9, 1964.

"Roger Arliner Young: Scientist."
by Kenneth R. Manning.
Sage: A Scholarly Journal of Black Women. 1989

To Become a Zoologist

Person / name: 

Young, Roger Arliner