Marie M. Daly grew up in Queens, NY with her parents, Ivan C. and Helen Page Daly, and younger fraternal twin brothers. She attended Hunter College High, an all-female school with an all-female faculty at the time. She would go on to attend Queens College (New York), not at first realizing anything uncommon about her aspirations, as there had been other female students in her science classes. An avid reader with a curiosity for chemistry, Marie aspired from a young age to follow in her father's footsteps in the study of the sciences.
Her father, an immigrant from the Caribbean, briefly attended Cornell University (Ithaca, NY) and received a scholarship to study chemistry; however, he was forced to leave school after just one semester due to lack of financial support and resources for young black man of the time. Although her father was unable to attain his dream, his love for sciences was passed down to his children, whom he fully supported in their studies.
Marie obtained a B.S. in chemistry from Queens College and completed a graduate fellowship and M.S. in chemistry at New York University. In 1947 she earned a Ph.D. in chemistry from Columbia University, only 3 years after she had begun the program. Her dissertation, “A Study of the Products Formed by the Action of Pancreatic Amylase on Corn Starch,” was focused on how compounds produced in the body participate in and affect the digestion process. With this accomplishment, Marie Maynard Daly became the first African-American woman to hold a Ph.D. in chemistry in the United States.
Ever-fascinated with the inner workings of the human body, Daly would spend her career researching practical applications for health and nutrition. In the early 1950's, she began researching animal cell and protein structures at Howard University and later at Rockefeller University under a research grant from the American Cancer Society. Her groundbreaking research gave the medical community a new understanding of the relationship between high cholesterol and clogged arteries with heart and circulatory health. She is a notable pioneer in the study of cardiovascular health and disease, and her discoveries significantly advanced the field.
Daly also loved her work as professor of biochemistry, and was committed to recruiting and supporting African-American aspiring scientists. She retired from academia in 1986 and established a scholarship fund at Queens College in honor of her father. Daly was an active member of many professional organizations, including the American Chemical Society, the American Society of Biological Chemists, the American Heart Association, the NAACP, the Harvey Society, and the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women.