'Hidden Figures' Redux: How Twitter Users Uncovered The Identity Of The Black Female Scientist In This Viral Photo

Sheila M. Jones was the only woman in the conference photo of 38 scientists!

Sheila M. Jones at science conference
Photo Credit: Photo: Twitter

| March 19 2018,

8:40 pm

The power of social media is real; Twitter proves this time and time again--especially when users band together to produce something positive. 

On March 9, illustrator Candace Andersen posted a vintage photo of 38 scientists at a conference. The most intriguing part? There was only one woman in the crowd, and she was black and unknown. Andersen asked Twitter to help her crack the case:

Andersen quickly received tens of thousands of retweets as everyone banded together to find the mystery woman, who was credited as "not identified."

Thanks so much for all the retweets, everybody!

Here is a close-up of Mystery Woman, unfortunately mostly blocked from the camera.

The conference was in June (1971) in Virginia, with participants from 10 countries. 

Why is *the only* woman listed as "not identified?" Arg! pic.twitter.com/eweEB1q9c9
— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 9, 2018'

Andersen searched far and wide; she even attempted to enlist help from the Smithsonian and conference coordinator Suzanne Contos. As days passed, more clues surfaced. The suspense was killing us! 

Hey @smithsonian! Please see above. 👆🏻A clue came in suggesting this woman worked in administration at the #Smithsonian. Can you help us out?
— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 10, 2018'

Okay Twitter: updates!

She's not been confirmed yet.

An attendee of the conference told @bluewhalenews this woman is definitely NOT Suzanne Montgomery Contos, as many were/are! suggesting. Big thanks for that info.

Then, @themediawitch was in touch with Suzanne herself.
— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 11, 2018'

Suzanne—who helped coordinate the 1971 conference & aided in MANY ways surrounding the event—agreed to take a look at our pictures to see if she can remember who this woman is.

Massive thanks to @themediawitch for reaching out to Suzanne.
— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 11, 2018'

While we wait, other names have come in!

A few of you have suggested **Matilene Spencer Berryman** (December 8, 1920–May 6, 2003). Seems plausible!

This was my first time hearing about Matilene. If it's your first time too, I encourage you to look her up! Read about her!
— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 11, 2018'

📢 Ahem, Twitter:

Word came in from Robert (Bob) Brownell, conference attendee, back-middle in photo, who said Mystery Lady may have been admin. 

"She worked for Clyde Jones at Fish and Wildlife Services in the early 1970s," he said. pic.twitter.com/oLtn1kALIR
— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 11, 2018'

"Reach out to Clyde to confirm!" I yell to myself...

...but unfortunately Clyde Jones has passed away.
— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 11, 2018'

After Smithsonian Research Program Officer Dee Allen reached out to Smithsonian Curator Emeritus of Mammals Don Wilson, they confirmed that the woman's name was Sheila M. Jones (née Minor).


Well, @AllenZiphiid72 reached out to *Don Wilson* (Curator Emeritus of Mammals at the Smithsonian).

Don agreed with what Bob had written:

"Her name is **SHEILA JONES**..." maiden name Minor. She worked as a Collections Technician in mammals with FWS. pic.twitter.com/gseQ026VvW
— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 11, 2018'

In the meantime, @themediawitch received more info from Suzanne Contos...

(As a tangent, I just had to add these charming blips I found about Suzanne as written by Ray {her then boss?} & Potter, attendees. She must've been such a big help during, before, & after the conference!) pic.twitter.com/KBmO7ueTm1
— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 12, 2018'


Suzanne told Peg that (Sheila's?) boss died (confirms what Bob & Don told Dee).

Suzanne then reached out to her former boss (G. Carleton Ray), **who took the photo.** Ray was certain she (Sheila?) wasn't officially "invited." He too thinks she was support staff.
— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 12, 2018'

Suzanne Contos thinks we've hit a dead end.

Bob and Don think Mystery Woman's name is most likely Sheila Minor. 

What do you think, Twitter?
— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 12, 2018'

Do we assume she's Sheila?

Do you think the photo was a quick snapshot, and she just happened to be there?

I wonder what all her papers are?
Did she significantly contribute to the conference?

If she worked for Fish & Wildlife Services then, I wonder what she's doing now? pic.twitter.com/DrY3YzXJmW
— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 12, 2018'

All looked lost. Then, this happened:

I've arrived at something BIG!
I'll be right back!✨ pic.twitter.com/jXWmdB9CzY
— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 12, 2018'

📢 Okay, okay.. SO, some lovely ladies with @smithsonian are *on top of things,* and Deborah in Archives ordered a box from their off-site storage facility that contains a folder named "Sheila Minor, 1972-1975."
She'll send me relevant scans of those contents once it arrives. (!)
— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 13, 2018'

🗒️ AND, they found for me the transcript of the conference proceedings. (!!)

(Sheila was not listed in the transcripts, however.)

But but but...
— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 13, 2018'

...Clyde Jones was listed!
Remember? He's the guy our new friend Bob said was Sheila's boss.
(RIP, Clyde.)
Also, SI found receipts for Skyland Lodge, the hotel conference attendees stayed at. Clyde again!
(I went back to our original photo, and found Clyde standing there! Doh!) pic.twitter.com/ScQqdBMD0Q
— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 13, 2018'

Guess who else Smithsonian ladies found a receipt for from Skyland Lodge at the time of the conference..?


A ✨Mrs. Sheila M. Jones.✨



Just, hang on! BRB! pic.twitter.com/jX7rxiGIBM
— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 13, 2018'

Alright Twitter, I was waiting for more info to come in to share with you, but I’ll just give you what I’ve got. 

If more comes I can always add to the thread, right? Right.

So. The Big Thing?
— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 14, 2018'

And in the biggest news of the entire story, Andersen directly linked up with Jones herself! 

✨ Mystery Woman is in fact Sheila.
*Sparkles! Confetti!*

🌈 And I verified that because I’ve been in touch with her!
*Rainbows! Unicorns!*

(Thanks so much to @straightAstoner and @themediawitch for narrowing the search.)

But, most importantly… pic.twitter.com/HQOHdMmHVl
— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 15, 2018'

…Shelia was NOT “just admin.” Oh no. pic.twitter.com/Lnbjv12vAT— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 15, 2018'

This is *just a fraction* of what I know thanks to scans sent to me by the A+ Deborah in Archives w/ the @Smithsonian; info dated 1972–'75:

She was a Biological Research Technician for Smithsonian Institution in (at least) 1972 & '73; a position which required a BS or MA degree. pic.twitter.com/vapBtEjEfy
— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 15, 2018'

She participated in a two-island study of the mammals inhabiting the Poplar Islands in 1973–1974, and presented her findings at the 55th Annual American Society of Mammalogists Meeting in 1975.

This included her belief of natural extinctions of some species on the islands. pic.twitter.com/bV3aKVwWIP
— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 15, 2018'

She was a guest at K-12 schools; speaking at elementary schools and giving lectures in high school Biology classes.

She helped lead field trips and children’s study groups. pic.twitter.com/sOu2dDYuS7
— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 15, 2018'

She typed up several memorandums with ideas for enriching educational visits, presentations, lectures, and field trips for children.

(Like, can I get a "the real Ms Frizz!") pic.twitter.com/jglLcNHk3I
— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 15, 2018'

She was appointed to the Smithsonian Women’s Council.

She was a member of the American Society of Mammalogists.

(All this is still just the years between 1972–1975.) pic.twitter.com/ImgILTPBf4
— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 15, 2018'

And, the info given to me by Sheila herself:

At the time this photo was taken, Sheila had a BS in Biology.

She was working in her first position with the Federal government.

Her boss, Clyde Jones, took her to that conference. pic.twitter.com/hlSCK3N8pp
— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 15, 2018'

She later pursued environmental science, and received a MS from George Mason University.

She worked for several Federal agencies in a 35-year career, and retired as a GS-14 from The Office of Environmental Policy & Compliance, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, DC. pic.twitter.com/9vB78XeVEK
— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 15, 2018'

Sheila is a wicked-smart babe.

I'm so happy we found her together, Twitter. pic.twitter.com/dnbJjhZUnB
— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 15, 2018'

“She seemed excited at first that I found her, and excited to see that picture,” Andersen said of connecting with Jones.

Dangit. I broke my thread.
I said something trying to be clever and the meanies of Twitter got me down.
I'm a softie and deleted that bit, so you'll have to (please) go here to continue reading the Sheila story:https://t.co/ezJbG28CbY
— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 16, 2018'

With the help of Smithsonian archives, Andersen was able to confirm that the mystery woman in the photo was a biological research technician for the Smithsonian Institute in the 1970s and had a bachelor of science degree in biology at the time of the conference.

Andersen spoke on how beautiful it was that “complete strangers [came together] using their time to jump in and help just because they wanted to,” as told to Yahoo! Lifestyle. “Asking colleagues, digging through archives, passing the word on until the mystery was solved … it was really great.”

Add Jones to the list of Hidden Figures

Photo: GIPHY