Originally published on 21 March 2018.
You’ve heard of women being interrupted by men. Now, here’s a woman being literally hidden behind…well…men. In a photo taken in 1971, at the International Conference of the Biology of Whales in Virginia, there are 38 male scientists and ONE woman. But wait, don’t go shaking your head yet. There’s more.
The woman in the photo is half-hidden by the man in front of her. And the description with the names of all the scientists doesn’t have the woman’s name. So, all you see is half a smiling face of what looks like a Black woman with no clues to figure out who she is in an old, fading snapshot.
This was until Candace Jean Anderson came into the picture – figuratively, of course.
With the desire to write a picture book on the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, Anderson was on the lookout for some information. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration helped her out by sending an article. There, amid the long text, Anderson saw the blurry photograph, became curious about the obscured woman and decided to find what her contributions to the conference may have been. She posted the photo on Twitter and soon people began pouring in to help. And voila! The emeritus curator of mammals at the Smithsonian National Museum of National History, Don Wilson, recognized her.
Sheila Minor Huff, now 71, has a biology degree and worked as a museum technician in 1971 when Wilson first started there. When she applied for her first job, she was asked to work as a typist, which she immediately declined by saying that she went to school too long to be a secretary. After completing her Master’s degree, Huff worked with top government officials on a variety of wildlife and environmental projects, was a member of the American society of mammologists and retired at 58 with one of the highest possible designations at the Department of the Interior.
As for the photo, Sheila said to The New York Times, “It’s kind of like, no big deal. When I try to do good, when I try and add back to this wonderful earth that we have, when I try to protect it, does it matter that anybody knows my name?”