Our people

8 women who made major strides at our company and beyond

Honoring the many ‘firsts’ of the inspiring women who paved the way for future generations

February 16, 2021

Share this article

article hero thumbnail

Women have made an essential impact on the rich history of our company and continue to inspire our present and future. Taking a look back through our history, we honor 8 of the women whose hard work and tenacity have inspired us and continue to impact our legacy of invention.

01.

Ann Colon – First woman to celebrate her 50th anniversary at Merck

After graduating grammar school, Anna “Ann” was looking for a job to help support her family after her father became ill.

She joined our company on Aug. 15, 1919 — about 10 days after her 14th birthday, as a messenger in the packing department.

Ann Colon

By 1933, Ann became supervisor, and later served as a supervisor in the sterile products department where the company manufactured what was then a new antibiotic and the first effective treatment for tuberculosis.

In 1969, Ann became the first woman to celebrate her 50th anniversary at our company before retiring the following year.

02.

Grace Winterling

Grace Winterling – Merck’s first female corporate officer

Grace Winterling began her career during World War II in the priorities department before taking on supervisory roles in the systems and procedures, organization planning and office services departments.

In 1954, she became an administrative assistant in the Office of the Secretary, and in 1957, Grace was elected to assistant secretary — a role that made her the first woman to become one of our company’s corporate officers. The distinction of a female corporate officer was so noteworthy, it made headlines in local newspapers.

After 15 years as a corporate officer, Grace was named president of the Merck Company Foundation, which continues to fund qualified, eligible nonprofit and philanthropic organizations today. Her efforts expanded our contributions and explored new avenues for philanthropy. Grace retired in 1983 after 40 years at our company.

03.

Susan Jenkins – Merck’s first Black female chemist

According to African American Women Chemists in the Modern Era, Susan R. Jenkins was the first female African American chemist at our company, where she began working in the Merck Research Laboratories (MRL) in 1957. Susan later joined Merck’s Corporate Equal Employment Affairs department, becoming the manager for Rahway, New Jersey, and then the manager of personnel for MRL. By the end of her career at our company, Susan was a Senior VP in Human Resources.

Susan Jenkins

04.

Marian Heiskell 1973

Marian Heiskell – Merck’s first woman elected to Board of Directors

Marian S. Heiskell, the director of Special Activities at the New York Times Company, became the first woman elected to Merck’s Board of Directors in 1973. Marian would serve on our board for the next 18 years, retiring in 1991. A well-known philanthropist and newspaper executive, Marian died in 2019 at age 100.

05.

Dorothy Bowers – Merck’s first vice president of environmental and safety policy

Dorothy Bowers began working at our company in 1974 as an engineer in the two-person environmental department.

In 1982, Dorothy was promoted to senior director of environmental control, and 10 years later, she was promoted to a newly created position: vice president of environmental and safety policy.

Dorothy Bowers

Committed to ensuring our company was a leader in protecting the environment, Dorothy spearheaded numerous processes for reducing the company’s emissions and chemical releases, making Merck a model for the industry as one of the first companies to publicly commit to pollution reductions.

In 1991, Dorothy received the Chairman’s Award, one of the highest honors for Merck employees, for her work on the Clean Air Amendments.

By 1999, after 25 years with our company, Dorothy had helped elevate environment protection to be among our highest business priorities before her retirement.

06.

Christine Stubbs – First woman to earn a chemical engineering degree from Howard University

Christine “Chris” Stubbs was the first woman to graduate from Howard University with a degree in engineering, joining our company in 1983. From then, she was one of our company’s most active employees in promoting equal opportunity.

By her 10th anniversary with our company, Chris led materials management at the Flint River manufacturing facility in Albany, Georgia, where she managed a staff of 31. This alone made Chris quite impressive, but it was her additional work promoting diversity that earned her the title as one of U.S. Black Engineer magazine’s 1993 Black Engineers of the Year.

07.

Dr. ColeMerck’s first Black woman board member

Dr. Cole joined our Board of Directors in 1994 and was likely our company’s first Black woman board member. At the time, Dr. Cole was already the first black woman to head Spelman College, a historically black college for women in Atlanta, Georgia, and the first black woman to serve on Coca-Cola’s Board of Directors. In 1997, Dr. Cole asserted that diversity was a smart investment for businesses, most notably stating, “Let’s address the question as to whether diversity in the American workforce is the right thing to do or the smart thing to do. The answer is: it is both.” Dr. Cole remained on our board until 2009.

Dr. Cole headshot

08.

Deborah-Dagit

Deborah “Deb” Dagit – Merck’s first Chief Diversity Officer

Deborah “Deb” Dagit worked at our company for 12 years as the company’s first Chief Diversity Officer. Deb, who had been instrumental in getting the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act passed by Congress, helped our company tie diversity and inclusion initiatives directly to the company’s business practices and results. In 2010, she established Merck’s employee business resource groups (EBRGs) that are still active today. Deb retired from our company in December 2012.