MAE C. JEMISON Biography - Pioneers, Explorers & inventors


Biography » pioneers explorers inventors » mae c jemison


Mae Carol Jemison, M.D. (born 17 October 1956) is an American physician and a               
former NASA astronaut. She became the first Black woman to travel in space when             
she went into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour on September 12, 1992.               
Mae Carol Jemison was born on October 17, 1956 in Decatur, Alabama, the youngest             
child of Charlie Jemison, a maintenance supervisor for a charity organization,               
and Dorothy (Green) Jemison, an elementary school teacher of English and math.               
The family moved to Chicago, Illinois, when Jemison was 3 to take advantage of               
better educational opportunities there. Jemison says that as a young girl                   
growing up in Chicago she always assumed she would get into space. "I thought,               
by now, we'd be going into space like you were going to work." She said it                   
was easier to apply to be a shuttle astronaut, "rather than waiting around in a             
cornfield, waiting for ET to pick me up or something."                                       
As a child growing up, Jemison learned to make connections to the world by                   
studying nature. "It sounds a little gross, but I was fascinated with pus,"                 
Jemison said. Once when a splinter infected her thumb as a little girl,                     
Jemison's mother turned it into a learning experience. "I ran and showed it                 
to my mother and she was telling me it was pus. I was like, 'Well, what is that?'           
And I ended up doing this whole project, reading about pus. My mother always                 
told me to go find out the information myself. She was very directive, in the               
sense of it's your responsibility,' sort of like those people who tell you to               
go look up a word in the dictionary when you don't know how to spell it."                   
Jemison wouldn't let anyone dissaude her from pursuing a career in science. "In             
kindergarten, my teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I told             
her a scientist," Jemison says. "She said, 'Don't you mean a nurse?' Now,                   
there's nothing wrong with being a nurse, but that's not what I wanted to be."               
Jemison loved science growing up but she also loved the arts. Jemison began                 
dancing at the age of 9. "I love dancing! I took all kinds of dance African                 
dancing, ballet, jazz, modern even Japanese dancing. I wanted to become a                   
professional dancer," said Jemison. During high school she auditioned for the               
leading role of "Maria" in West Side Story. She didn't get the part but                     
Jemison's dancing skills did get her into the line up as a background dancer.               
"I had a problem with the singing but I danced and acted pretty well enough for             
them to choose me. I think that people sometimes limit themselves and so rob                 
themselves of the opportunity to realise their dreams. For me, I love the                   
sciences and I also love the arts," says Jemison. "I saw the theatre as an                   
outlet for this passion and so I decided to pursue this dream." Later during                 
her senior year in college, she was trying to decide whether to go to New York               
to medical school or become a professional dancer. Her mother told her, "You                 
can always dance if you're a doctor, but you can't doctor if you're a dancer."               
Jemison graduated from Chicago's Morgan Park High School in 1973 and entered                 
Stanford University at age 17. "I was naive and stubborn enough that it didn't               
faze me," Jemsion said. "It's not until recently that I realized that 16 was                 
particularly young or that there were even any issues associated with my parents             
having enough confidence in me to [allow me to] go that far away from home."                 
Jemison graduated from Stanford in 1977, receiving a B.S. in chemical                       
engineering and fulfilling the requirements for a B.A. in African and Afro-American         
Studies. Jemison said that majoring in engineering as a black woman was                     
difficult because race is always an issue in the United States. "Some                       
professors would just pretend I wasn't there. I would ask a question and a                   
professor would act as if it was just so dumb, the dumbest question he had ever             
heard. Then, when a white guy would ask the same question, the professor would               
say, "That's a very astute observation.'"                                                   
Jemison obtained her Doctor of Medicine degree in 1981 from Cornell Medical                 
College (now Weill Medical College of Cornell University). She interned at                   
Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center and later worked as a general practitioner.           
During medical school Jemison traveled to Cuba, Kenya and Thailand, to provide               
primary medical care to people living there. During her years at Cornell                     
Medical College, Jemison took lessons in modern dance at the Alvin Ailey school.             
Jemison later built a dance studio in her home and has choreographed and                     
produced several shows of modern jazz and African dance.