Sheila Minor Huff (1947- )

Virginia counties
Virginia counties
Image courtesy

Hidden in the midst of a photograph of mostly male, white attendees at the 1971 International Conference on the Biology of Whales was one young African American woman. She was unnamed in the caption despite her presence there amongst experts in marine biology. Candace Jean Andersen, a writer, received the photo from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for her research and launched a search on Twitter for the unnamed woman. With the help of thousands of respondents, the woman was unveiled as Sheila Jones née Minor, and now remarried as Sheila Huff, who had worked as a biological specimen analyst at the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Unlike a few believed, she was not support staff at the Conference who happened to have slipped into the photo: she was in fact an educated, hard-working scientist. Huff received a bachelor’s degree in biology from American University, and worked as an animal technician after turning down a job as typist at the U.S. Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife. She worked full-time and eventually received a master’s degree in environmental science from George Mason University.

Huff spent 35 years dedicated to her scientific career, including the instance where she was photographed, but did not feel slighted by being unidentified in the conference photo because she knew the depth and strength of her career. She ran a Department of Interior office in Chicago, and worked with K-12 schools to further science education. She had participated in a study of mammals near Poplar Island in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland in 1973-1974 and presented her work on species extinction in that area to the 55th Annual American Society of Mammalogists Meeting in 1975, a group of which she was a member. She was appointed to the Smithsonian Women’s Council. By the time of her retirement at age 58, she was a high-ranking environmental protection specialist at the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Now, 71 years old and living in Virginia, Sheila Minor Huff spends her retirement belly dancing, volunteering at her church, and spending time with her five grandchildren.