April 11th: Percy Julian & Annie Dodge Wauneka

Today’s Google Doodle is awesome, and shows Google’s apparently real commitment to changing the way they approach the Doodles program. Their honoree for April 11th is pioneering chemist Percy Julian, known for fundamental work that allowed human hormones and steroids to be produced on large scales for medical purposes. Julian overcame enormous odds to earn top honors in college and to earn his PhD in Europe, since he wasn’t able to attend high school because of his race. He was also the second African-American, and the first African-American chemist, to be honored with fellowship in the National Academy of Sciences. Julian’s scientific work was incredible and innovative, and he’s known as much for the fundamental knowledge he developed as for the real-life applications of his work that have driven medical advancements.

Here at Speaking Up, we’ll turn to an entirely different field and learn a bit more about influential Navajo activist, educator, and community organizer Annie Dodge Wauneka. I first wrote about her last year, in the April 2013 Doodle-Worthy Women entry, and this time around we’ll delve a bit deeper.

Born on this date in 1910, Wauneka served on the Navajo Tribal Council for almost 3 decades, as head of the Health and Welfare Committee. She was the second woman elected to the Tribal Council. Wauneka initially became interested in nursing, health, and public service following the 1918 flu pandemic, where she helped the nurse at her boarding school care for ill students; that epidemic took the lives of several hundred Navajos.

Her activism and education campaigns focused on the promotion of public health, community programs, and general welfare among the Navajo, and education was always at the center of her strategies.  Throughout her career, Wauneka traveled within the Navajo nation offering public health advice and advocacy. She drew on resources and experts within the nation, and from the outside as well, and was a constructive critic of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. She focused particularly on tuberculosis treatment and prevention, and is given much of the credit for eradicating that disease in the Navajo nation. Wauneka also worked on sanitation and clean water initiatives in Navajo communities, and on the reduction of infant mortality.

Annie Dodge Wauneka, Navajo leader and health activist.

Annie Dodge Wauneka, Navajo leader and health activist.

Wauneka’s work earned her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Navajo Medal of Freedom, induction to the National Women’s Hall of Fame, and multiple honorary doctorates in humanities, law, and public health. Her legacy includes the translation of medical techniques, terms, and concepts from English to Navajo, along with major campaigns to reduce the incidence of tuberculosis.

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