Margaret S. Collins

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Margaret S. Collins
Margaret S. Collins
Margaret S. Collins conducting an experiment.
Born (1922-09-04)September 4, 1922
Institute, West Virginia
Died April 27, 1996(1996-04-27) (aged 73)
Cayman Islands
Nationality American
Alma mater West Virginia State University
Occupation Zoologist, Entomologist

Margaret James Strickland Collins (September 4, 1922[1] – April 27, 1996) was an African-American child prodigy, entomologist (zoologist) specializing in the study of termites, and a civil rights advocate. Collins was responsible, together with her colleague David Nickle, for identifying a new species, the Neotermes luykxi (the Florida dampwood termite).[2][3]

Life and work[edit]

Collins was born in 1922 in Institute, West Virginia. She started college at age fourteen and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from West Virginia State University in 1943.[2] She earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of Chicago in 1950, becoming only the third Black woman zoologist in the country.[4] Her mentor was Alfred E. Emerson.[2] Her dissertation was Difference in toleration of drying between species of termites (Reticulitermes)[5], with an article based on this work in Ecology, the journal of the Ecological Society of America.[6]

Collins taught at Florida A&M University and at Howard University. She saw herself primarily as a field scientist,[4] and did extensive field work in North and South America, specializing in the insects of Guyana and Florida. From the late 1970s through 1996, Collins was a research associate in the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, Department of Entomology.[7] Her primary area of study was termites of the Caribbean.[7][8] Her life's research regarding termites included: the evolution of desiccation resistance in termites; various termite species' tolerance of high temperatures; defensive behavior in South American termites, including chemical defenses; termite ecology; species abundance in virgin and disturbed tropical rain forests; and behavioral ecology, taxonomy, and entomology.[4]

She was also an active civil rights advocate, receiving a bomb threat for planning to give a university talk on biology and equality, and being followed by the police and FBI when she was a volunteer driver during a bus boycott.[4] Her activism limited her scientific work for a time: she had been publishing a scientific paper or two a year, but had no publications between 1952 and 1957.[4] She led a 1979 AAAS symposium in Houston, later published as Science and the Question of Human Equality.[9]

Collins was still doing research when she died at age 73 on April 27, 1996 in the Cayman Islands.[2][10] She died of heart failure, and, as she had hoped to, while on a field trip.[4]

Published works[edit]

  • Collins, M. S., Wainer, I. W., & Bremner, T. A. (1981). Science and the Question of Human Equality. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press. ISBN 9780891589525[9]
  • Water relations in termites. Chapter in Krishna K, Weesner F (ed). Biology of Termites (1969).[11]

Further reading[edit]

  • Lewis, VR. Child Prodigy, Pioneer Scientist, and Women and Civil Rights Advocate: Dr. Margaret James Strickland Collins (1922–1996). Florida Entomologist, 2016; 99(2): 334-336.[1]
  • Warren, Wini. Black Women Scientists in the United States. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999. Pages 52–65. ISBN 9780253336033


  1. ^ a b Lewis, Vernard R. (June 2016). "Child Prodigy, Pioneer Scientist, and Women and Civil Rights Advocate: Dr. Margaret James Strickland Collins (1922–1996)". Florida Entomologist. 99 (2): 334–336. doi:10.1653/024.099.0235. 
  2. ^ a b c d Carey, Charles W. (2008). African Americans in Science: An Encyclopedia of People and Progress. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO. pp. 51–52. ISBN 9781851099986. 
  3. ^ "Florida dampwood termites". Featured Creatures. University of Florida. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Warren, Wini (1999). Black Women Scientists in the United States. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. pp. 52–66. ISBN 0-253-33603-1. 
  5. ^ Strickland, Margaret (1950). Difference in toleration of drying between species of termites (Reticulitermes). Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago. Retrieved 22 February 2018. 
  6. ^ Strickland, Margaret (July 1950). "Differences in Toleration of Drying between Species of Termites (Reticulitermes)". Ecology. 31 (3): 373–385. doi:10.2307/1931492. 
  7. ^ a b "SIA Acc. 01-038, National Museum of Natural History (U.S.) Dept. of Entomology, Curatorial Records, 1959-1996". Smithsonian Institution Archives. Retrieved February 24, 2015. 
  8. ^ Staff (February 5, 1959). "Studies Termites". Jet. 15 (14). p. 25. Retrieved 2016-02-01. 
  9. ^ a b Collins, Margaret S.; Wainer,, Irving W.; Bremner, Theodore A. (1981). Science and the question of human equality. Boulder, Colo.: Westview. ISBN 9780891589525. Retrieved 22 February 2018. 
  10. ^ "Termite expert Margaret Collins dies during trip". Washington Post. May 5, 1996. Retrieved January 29, 2016. 
  11. ^ Krishna, Kumar; Weesner, Frances M. (1969). Biology of Termites. Burlington: Elsevier Science. ISBN 9780323144582.