Wangari Maathai

Lived:April 1, 1940—September 25, 2011 (aged 71)
Education:Mount St. Scholastica College (now Benedictine College)- Majored in Biology (B.S.), University of Pittsburgh (M.S. in Biology)

Wangari Muta Maathai was a Kenyan environmental political activist who was the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, in 2004. She founded the Green Belt Movement, an environmental non-governmental organization focused on the planting of trees, environmental conservation and women's rights.

Maathai was born April 1, 1940, in the village of Ihithe, Nyeri District, in Kenya. Her family was Kikuyu, the most populous ethnic group in Kenya. She was one of some 300 Kenyans selected to study in the United States in 1960 through a program funded through the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation known as the Kennedy Airlift, or Airlift Africa. She received a Bachelor of Science in biology from Mount St. Scholastica College (now Benedictine College) in 1964 and a master's degree in biology from the University of Pittsburgh in 1966. She returned to Kenya and was hired as a research assistant in the School of Veterinary Medicine at University College of Nairobi. In 1971, she became the first Eastern African woman to receive a PhD, a doctorate in veterinary anatomy from the University College of Nairobi (now the University of Nairobi).

Maathai continued to teach at Nairobi, becoming a senior lecturer in anatomy in 1975, chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy in 1976 and associate professor in 1977 - the first woman in Nairobi to hold any of these positions. At the university, she campaigned for equal benefits for the female staff members. She also became involved in a number of civic organizations, including the Nairobi branch of the Kenya Red Cross Society, the Kenya Association of University Women, the Environment Liaison Centre and the National Council of Women of Kenya. Her work with these organizations led to her belief that the cause of most of Kenya's problems was environmental degradation.

Maathai was an elected member of Parliament and served as assistant minister for environment and natural resources in the government of President Mwai Kibaki between January 2003 and November 2005. In 2005, she was elected the first president of the African Union's Economic, Social and Cultural Council and was appointed a goodwill ambassador for an initiative aimed at protecting the Congo Basin Forest Ecosystem. She and five other Nobel laureates - Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan Maguire - created the Nobel Women's Initiative in 2006 to promote peace, justice and equality for women.

Maathai died on September 25, 2011.