Sometimes the Twitterverse can be a beautiful place. When Candace Jean Andersen came across a photo of a group of people at a 1971 science conference in Virginia, she noticed that the only person who was unidentified in the caption was a black woman. Curious to know who the trailblazer was, she took to Twitter to ask for help in her search, in an attempt to unearth what turned out to be another “Hidden Figures” story.
Andersen’s plea was met by more than 11,000 people who chimed in to help identify the only female at the science conference. She tells Yahoo Lifestyle it was beautiful how “complete strangers [came together] using their time to jump in and help just because they wanted to,” she says. “Asking colleagues, digging through archives, passing the word on until the mystery was solved… it was really great.”
After several tips from across the web, Andersen was able to track down a coordinator of the science conference named Suzanne Contos, who decided do a little digging of her own to help find out who the mystery woman was.
Suzanne reached out to other attendees, some of whom were able to identify her and provide a name.
They were able to put a name to the half-covered face: Sheila Jones. They claimed that the mystery woman had been an administrator and most likely not even officially invited to the conference.
But Andersen was not satisfied with the answers based on speculations, and neither was the Twitterverse. If Twitter had come so far as to track down other attendees and coordinators, concrete and factual information on Jones had to be out there. And it was.
That’s when two workers from the Smithsonian reached out to Andersen. They did an archival search, in which they were able to identify with certainty that the mystery woman was not just an administrator or “uninvited person” but an actual scientist.
“She was a Biological Research Technician for Smithsonian Institution in (at least) 1972 & ’73; a position which required a BS or MA degree,” Anderson wrote.
The mystery woman, no longer a mystery, was Sheila M. Jones (her maiden name was Sheila D. Minor), and Andersen contacted her. “She seemed excited at first that I found her, and excited to see that picture,” Andersen says.
Jones gave her details on her life as a scientist and told her that in fact, she had a bachelor of science degree in biology at the time of the conference.
Jones also told Andersen about the path that her career subsequently took:
Those following the story were overjoyed to have found Jones and learned about her life as a trailblazing black woman scientist dating back to the 1970s.
Yes, thank you to Andersen and the Twitterverse for helping bring well-deserved recognition to Jones and her incredible life.
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