• May 1, 1924
    (b.) - ?

Bio/Description

One of the first African-American women to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics, which she earned in 1949 from Yale University, she has had a long career as a pioneer in computer programming and has held positions as a Professor of Mathematics. She was born in Washington, D.C. and graduated valedictorian from Dunbar High School; which at that time was a segregated but academically competitive school for black students. With financial support from her aunt and, later, a small partial scholarship from Phi Delta Kappa, she entered Smith College in the fall of 1941. She majored in Mathematics and Physics, but also took a keen interest in astronomy. She was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and to Sigma Xi and graduated summa cum laude in 1945. Encouraged by a graduate scholarship from the Smith Student Aid Society of Smith College, she applied to graduate programs in mathematics and was accepted by both Yale University and the University of Michigan. She chose Yale because of the financial aid they offered and studied Functional Analysis under the supervision of Einar Hille, finishing her doctorate in 1949. Her dissertation was "On Laguerre Series in the Complex Domain." While at Yale she was twice awarded a Julius Rosenwald Fellowship and for her final year of study she was granted an Atomic Energy Commission Predoctoral Fellowship. In 1950, she took a teaching position at Fisk University, a college for black students in Nashville, Tennessee (more prestigious postings being unavailable to black women). Two of her students there, Vivienne Malone-Mayes and Etta Zuber Falconer, went on to earn doctorates in Mathematics of their own. In July 1952 she left academia and returned to Washington, D.C. to accept a position as Mathematician at the National Bureau of Standards (NBS). The work entailed consulting with ordinance engineers and scientists on the mathematical analysis of problems related to the development of missile fuses. The division she joined later became an agency in the Department of the Army and was renamed the Diamond Ordnance Fuze Laboratories (DOFL) where she met several mathematicians who were employed as computer programmers. The development of electronic computers was in its infancy and because of the interest she had in the application of computers to scientific studies, she was led to consider an offer of employment from International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) in 1955. In January 1956 she joined IBM, Watson Computing Center in New York City where, during a two-week training session she was introduced to the IBM 650 electronic computer and the programming language SOAP. When the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) awarded a contract to IBM to plan, write, and maintain computer programs for the U.S. space program, the company opened the Vanguard Computing Center in Washington, D.C. She accepted the offer to transfer to the Center to be a part of the team of IBM mathematicians and scientists who were responsible for the formulation of orbit computations and computer procedures, first for NASA's Project Vanguard and later for Project Mercury. After a year in the Washington, D.C. office of IBM, where she developed programs for the IBM 650, she returned to New York City to work as a consultant in numerical analysis at the New York City Data Processing Center of the Service Bureau Corporation., an IBM subsidiary. In 1960 she moved to Los Angeles, California where she worked for the U.S. Space Technology Laboratories in the Computation and Data Reduction Center. She did research studies on methods of orbit computations. In August 1962, she accepted the position of Research Specialist with the Space and Information Systems Division of NAA, in a group which provided technical support to engineering departments in the areas of celestial mechanics, trajectory and orbit computations, numerical analysis and digital computer techniques. In October 1963 she returned to IBM to work in the Federal Systems Division (FSD) where she did similar work to that done at NAA-trajectory analysis and orbit computation using techniques of numerical analysis. In 1967, because of restructuring at IBM, she left, taking a position at California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) as a full Professor of Mathematics. After retiring from CSULA in 1984 she taught at Texas College in Tyler, Texas for four years, and then in 1990 joined the faculty of the University of Texas at Tyler as the Sam A. Lindsey Professor of Mathematics. There she developed elementary school math enrichment programs. In 1999, the United States National Academy of Sciences inducted her into its Portrait Collection of African-Americans in Science. In 1989, she was awarded an honorary doctorate by Smith College, the first one given by an American institution to an African-American woman mathematician.
  • Date of Birth:

    May 1, 1924
  • Noted For:

    Team member of IBM mathematicians and scientists responsible for the formulation of orbit computations and computer procedures for NASA's Projects Vanguard and Mercury
  • Category of Achievement:

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