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Evelyn Boyd Granville

Date of birth : 1924-05-01
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Washington, D.C.
Nationality : American
Category : Science and Technology
Last modified : 2011-04-21

Evelyn Boyd Granville was the first African American to receive her doctoral degree in mathematics.

Evelyn Boyd Granville earned her doctorate from Yale University in 1949; in that year she and Marjorie Lee Browne (at the University of Michigan) became the first African American women to receive doctoral degrees in mathematics; it would be more than a dozen years before another black woman would earn a Ph.D. in the field. Granville's career has included stints as an educator and involvement with the American space program during its formative years.

Granville was born in Washington, D.C., on May 1, 1924. Her father, William Boyd, worked as a custodian in their apartment building; he did not stay with the family, however, and Granville was raised by her mother, Julia Walker Boyd, and her mother's twin sister, Louise Walker, both of whom worked as examiners for the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Granville and her sister Doris, who was a year and a half older, often spent portions of their summers at the farm of a family friend in Linden, Virginia.

The public schools of Washington, D.C., were racially segregated when Granville attended them. Dunbar High School (from which she graduated as valedictorian) maintained high academic standards. Several of its faculty held degrees from top colleges, and they encouraged the students to pursue ambitious goals. Granville's mathematics teachers included Ulysses Basset, a Yale graduate, and Mary Cromwell, a University of Pennsylvania graduate; Cromwell's sister, who held a doctorate from Yale, taught in Dunbar's English department.

With the encouragement of her family and teachers, Granville entered Smith College with a small partial scholarship from Phi Delta Kappa, a national sorority for black women. After her freshman year, she lived in a cooperative house at Smith, sharing chores rather than paying more expensive dormitory rates. During the summers, she returned to Washington to work at the National Bureau of Standards.

Granville majored in mathematics and physics, but was also fascinated by astronomy after taking a class from Marjorie Williams. She considered becoming an astronomer, but chose not to commit herself to living in the isolation of a major observatory, which was necessary for astronomers of that time. Though she had entered college intending to become a teacher, she began to consider industrial work in physics or mathematics. She graduated summa cum laude in 1945 and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.

With help from a Smith College fellowship, Granville began graduate studies at Yale University, for which she also received financial assistance. She earned an M.A. in mathematics and physics in one year, and began working toward a doctorate at Yale. For the next two years she received a Julius Rosenwald Fellowship, which was awarded to help promising black Americans develop their research potential. The following year she received an Atomic Energy Commission Predoctoral Fellowship. Granville's doctoral work concentrated on functional analysis, and her dissertation was titled On Laguerre Series in the Complex Domain. Her advisor, Einar Hille, was a former president of the American Mathematical Society. Upon receiving her Ph.D. in mathematics in 1949, Granville was elected to the scientific honorary society Sigma Xi.

Granville then undertook a year of postdoctoral research at New York University's Institute of Mathematics and Science. Apparently because of housing discrimination, she was unable to find an apartment in New York, so she moved in with a friend of her mother. Despite attending segregated schools, Granville had not encountered discrimination based on race or gender in her professional preparation. Only years later would she learn that her 1950 application for a teaching position at a college in New York City was turned down for such a reason. A female adjunct faculty member eventually told biographer Patricia Kenschaft that the application was rejected because of Granville's race; however, a male mathematician reported that despite the faculty's support of the application, the dean rejected it because Granville was a woman.

In 1950, Granville accepted the position of associate professor at Fisk University, a noted black college in Nashville, Tennessee. She was a popular teacher, and at least two of her female students credited her with inspiring them to earn doctorates in mathematics in later years.

After two years of teaching, Granville went to work for the Diamond Ordnance Fuze Laboratories as an applied mathematician, a position she held for four years. From 1956 to 1960, she worked for IBM on the Project Vanguard and Project Mercury space programs, analyzing orbits and developing computer procedures. Her job included making "real-time" calculations during satellite launchings. "That was exciting, as I look back, to be a part of the space programs—a very small part—at the very beginning of U.S. involvement," Granville told Loretta Hall in a 1994 interview.

On a summer vacation to southern California, Granville met the Reverend Gamaliel Mansfield Collins, a minister in the community church. They were married in 1960, and made their home in Los Angeles. They had no children, although Collins's three children occasionally lived with them. In 1967, the marriage ended in divorce.

Upon moving to Los Angeles, Granville had taken a job at the Computation and Data Reduction Center of the U.S. Space Technology Laboratories, studying rocket trajectories and methods of orbit computation. In 1962, she became a research specialist at the North American Aviation Space and Information Systems Division, working on celestial mechanics, trajectory and orbit computation, numerical analysis, and digital computer techniques for the Apollo program. The following year she returned to IBM as a senior mathematician.

Because of restructuring at IBM, numerous employees were transferred out of the Los Angeles area in 1967; Granville wanted to stay, however, so she applied for a teaching position at California State University in Los Angeles. She happily reentered the teaching profession, which she found enjoyable and rewarding. She was disappointed in the mathematics preparedness of her students, however, and she began working to improve mathematics education at all levels. She taught an elementary school supplemental mathematics program in 1968 and 1969 through the State of California Miller Mathematics Improvement Program. The following year she directed a mathematics enrichment program that provided after-school classes for kindergarten through fifth grade students, and she taught grades two through five herself. She was an educator at a National Science Foundation Institute for Secondary Teachers of Mathematics summer program at the University of Southern California in 1972. Along with colleague Jason Frand, Granville wrote Theory and Application of Mathematics for Teachers in 1975; a second edition was published in 1978, and the textbook was used at over fifty colleges.

In 1970, Granville married Edward V. Granville, a real estate broker. After her 1984 retirement from California State University in Los Angeles, they moved to a sixteen-acre farm in Texas, where they sold eggs produced by their eight hundred chickens.

From 1985 to 1988, Granville taught mathematics and computer science at Texas College in Tyler. In 1990, she accepted an appointment to the Sam A. Lindsey Chair at the University of Texas at Tyler, and in subsequent years continued
teaching there as a visiting professor. Smith College awarded Granville an honorary doctorate in 1989, making her the first black woman mathematician to receive such an honor from an American institution.



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