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Hidden Figures

Source: Columbia / Sony Music Entertainment

Candace Jean Andersen was doing some research for a children’s book on orcas when she found a picture of a group scientists at the 1971 International Conference on the Biology of Whales in Virginia. She looked at all of the male faces but what stood out was the one woman. Her face was only partly shown because she was standing behind another man. All 37 names of the male scientists were listed but the one woman, the one African American woman’s name was listed as “not identified”.

Andersen had stumbled upon a mystery.  “Not identified, why? Who is she? What did she contribute to the conference? What’s HER story?” Andersen wondered. For a while, she stopped working on her picture book project and began looking for the woman. So she went to twitter.

Andersen’s tweet took flight and after a couple of false leads, one finally panned out. Some solid leads and the help of an with help from an archivist at the Smithsonian, she found out that the woman was Sheila Minor Huff who was a biological specimen analyst at the Fish and Wildlife Service at the time of the conference.

Using more social media, Anderson tracked Huff down on Facebook and they were able to talk.  Huff went on to have a 35-year scientific career with the federal government and retired 12 years ago as a high-ranking environmental protection specialist. Huff had forgotten about the photo and having her name mention didn’t bother her.

 

Huff told CNN “I had to go to open a Twitter account to see what all the fuss was about.” Huff said she never really worried about being identified, or recognized or celebrated, because she is passionate about natural resources and just wanted to get the job done. She is enjoying her retirement, loves being a grandmother and driving her convertible

 

Andersen has been inspired by the global effort to find Huff.  “I have considered writing a book about the events or Sheila herself,” she said. “I wish the finding of Sheila could become a piece of a bigger picture; like that of a series of episodes about uncovering unnamed or unrecognized women in STEM.”

 

Well, we celebrate Sheila Minor Huff for your selfless work and Candace Jean Andersen for your efforts to bring this hidden figure to light!