Celebrating Black Women in Mathematics

In the Month of April, we celebrate both Black Women’s History Month and Math Awareness Month, making this the perfect time to learn about the rich history of black women in mathematics.  The following women are just a few of the many famous mathematicians who made exceptional achievements and to their field.

Dr. Martha Euphemia Lofton Haynes

Euphemia Lofton Haynes was the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics way back in 1943. Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Euphemia made her name in D.C.’s academic realm over the course of her career in both mathematics and education. This legendary mathematician was an inspiration to the African-American women who struggled to break the norms and prejudiced notions set by the world towards them. Being the first African-American female to earn a doctorate, Haynes devoted her life to establishing mathematics department in various schools. She was an achiever in her time and remained head of the math department at the Miner Teachers College, now known as the University of the District of Columbia for nearly 30 years. During her 47-year-long career in the field of education, she worked towards the desegregation of the school system, as the practice of racial segregation was pretty evident at that time. Her dissertation was on the topic The Determination of Sets of Independent Conditions Characterizing Certain Special Cases of Symmetric Correspondences.

Dr. Joella Hardeman

Dr. Joella Hardeman was raised and born in Los Angeles California. Joella excelled academically as well as participated in oratorical contests, performing in plays and violin recitals for she loved music. Her hard work and perseverance in college were rewarded with a full academic scholarship and received the Master of Arts degree in Music Education. With a degree in hand, Joella began a lifetime of service and work in education and held positions at many institutions and universities.

Over time her interest shifted to Mathematics, and she became certified in and began teaching the subject. After earning her doctorate in 1971, Dr. Hardeman accepted a position at Wayne State University and rose to the rank of full professor and served as a major advisor for 25 Doctoral Dissertations and 80 Masters Projects. She was one of the authors of the first book on African American Mathematicians and Black Mathematicians and their Works in 1980.

Dr. Gipson received numerous honors and awards in her lifetime including two Fulbright Senior Scholar Awards, Rotary International University Teachers Grant to Teach in Developing Countries, Detroit Area Council of Teachers of Mathematics Association Teacher of the Year, CASIO Inc. Teacher Award, and University of California, Santa Barbara, Equity in Mathematics Education Leadership Institute, a two-year award and many more. A true believer in doing for others, one of the core values that Joella exemplified was service.


Dr. Katherine Okikiolu

Dr. Katherine Okikiolu is a prominent Nigerian and British research mathematician who has won many prestigious awards. After completing an undergraduate degree in mathematics at Cambridge, she went on to study a Ph.D. at the University of California at Los Angeles. Katherine comes from a very math oriented family. Her father George Okikiolu is a mathematician, inventor and known for the most published black mathematician on record. Her mother is a high school mathematics teacher.

In June 1997, she was awarded the prestigious Sloan Research Fellowship and was a recipient of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers for both her mathematical research and her development of mathematics curricula for inner-city school children. In 2001, she became the first black woman to publish an article in the Annals of Mathematics, a journal of research papers in pure mathematics founded in 1884. As a research mathematician, Okikiolu has achieved success and contributed to the development of mathematical ideas in the twenty-first century.

One of Dr. Okikiolu’s areas of research is the Classical and Geometric Analysis, Partial Differential Equations and Operator Theory. In addition, she is exploring several fields in mathematics. Her work in elliptical differential operators is considered a major contribution. Okikiolu plans to make a series of videos depicting model teaching lessons. These teaching lessons will emphasize real-world perspectives which she believes can acquaint children with mathematical concepts and help them grasp the significance of numbers and measurements. Currently, she is a professor at Johns Hopkins University and married to a mathematician, Hans Lindblad.

Throughout history, diversity in the field of Mathematics has contributed to the greater understanding of the world which we now enjoy.  Due to the contributions of those great trailblazers who faced a number of challenges helping under-represented groups break into STEM fields, we have gained many great discoveries.  These are just a few of the women educators who are celebrated for their work in education and STEM professions and are serving as role models and an inspiration to their peers and future generations.

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