Skip to main content
Select Source:

Granville, Evelyn Boyd 1924–

Evelyn Boyd Granville 1924

Mathematician, computer programmer, educator

At a Glance

Struggled to Find a Teaching Job

Benefited from the Space Race

Returned to Teaching

Selected writings

Sources

In 1949 two women earned the distinction of being the first African-American women to earn doctorates in mathematics. One of these women was Evelyn Boyd Granville, who earned her degree from Yale University. Granville spent her early career in applied mathematics working for private companies in the field of aerospace technology. She worked on important projects for NASA and was also involved in computer programming when this field was still new. Later in her career, Granville worked as a college professor and then as a public speaker promoting math education.

Evelyn Boyd Granville was born on May 1, 1924, in Washington, D.C. She was the second child born to William and Julia Walker Boyd. Her father held various jobs, including janitor, chauffeur, and messenger. Her mother, a high school graduate from Orange, Virginia, worked at the United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing as a currency and stamp examiner. Granvilles parents separated when she was young as a result of the strains of the Great Depression, and she and her sister were raised by their mother and her twin sister, Louise Walker.

Granville always enjoyed school and excelled academically. She was named salutatorian of her junior high school and valedictorian of the prestigious Dunbar High School. Although Granville attended segregated public schools, she encountered highly qualified teachers who encouraged her to achieve. One such teacher was Mary Cromwell, Granvilles high school mathematics teacher. Our parents and teachers preached over and over again that education is the vehicle to a productive life, and through diligent study and application we could succeed at whatever we attempted to do, Granville wrote in an essay published in SAGE: A Scholarly Journal on Black Women. In addition to the teachers she encountered in school, Granville also admired the famous educator Mary McLeod Bethune. As Granville told Margaret A. M. Murray in Women Becoming Mathematicians, The teachers represented success; they represented stability in the community. They lived better than anybody else, and so naturally, you wanted to be like they were.

After graduating from high school, Granville applied to Smith College and Mt. Holyoke College. While she was accepted at both schools, initially she was not offered

At a Glance

Born Evelyn Boyd on May 1, 1924, in Washington, D.C.; daughter of William and Julia (Walker) Boyd; married Gamaliel Mansfield Collins, 1960 (divorced, 1967); married Edward V. Granville, 1970. Education: Smith College, B.A. (with honors), mathematics, 1945; Yale University, M.A., mathematics and theoretical physics, 1946, Ph.D., mathematics, 1949.

Career: New York University, post-doctoral fellow, 1949; Fisk University, assistant professor, 1950-52; Diamond Ordnance Fuze Laboratories, mathematician 1952-56; IBM, mathematician and computer programmer, 1956-60, 1963-67; Space Technology Laboratories, mathematician, 1960-61; North American Aviation Company, research specialist, 1962; California State University, professor, 1967-84; Texas College, professor, 1985-88; University of Texas at Tyler, professor, 1990-97; public lecturer, 1998-.

Memberships: Phi Beta Kappa; Sigma Xi; National Council of Teachers of Mathematics; American Association of University Women.

Awards: Julius Rosenwald fellowship, 1946-48; Atomic Energy Commission predoctoral fellowship, 1947-49.

Address: Home Edom, TX.

any financial aid. She chose to attend Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. Her aunt offered to pay half of her tuition and she received a small scholarship from Phi Delta Kappa, a national sorority of African-American teachers. Her mother paid for her remaining expenses. Granville worked part-time as a waitress at the faculty club, and spent her summers working at the National Bureau of Standards, first as a technical aid, then a computer analyst, and later as a mathematician.

Granvilles family was instrumental in her success. Margaret A. M. Murray interviewed 36 female mathematicians for her book Women Becoming Mathematicians. Granville was the only African-American woman interviewed. Murray wrote, More than any of the other women interviewed, [Granvilles] childhood was shaped by interactions both within her nuclear family and within the extended family and the larger community of which she was a part. Granville provided some insight into why her family was so eager to support her education. She told Robert A. Frahm of the Hartford Courant, African Americans knew if you had a college education, even though opportunities were limited, you still could get a better job than being a chauffeur or a maid.

Granville did so well during her first year of college that Smith College awarded her a scholarship. Granville was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi, a scientific honorary society. While math had always been her favorite subject, Granville also became very interested in astronomy. However, she decided not to pursue this as a career because she though that working in an observatory would be lonely. She had no idea at that time that the U.S. space program would undergo incredible developments more than a decade later. Granville graduated summa cum laude in 1945, with honors in mathematics.

Granville received a scholarship from the Smith Student Aid Society to attend graduate school. She applied to the University of Michigan and Yale University, and attended Yale, earning a masters degree in mathematics and theoretical physics in 1946. She continued her studies at Yale until 1949, as the recipient of two Julius Rosenwald fellowships and a predoctoral fellowship from the Atomic Energy Commission. Her advisor was Dr. Einar Hille, a specialist in functional analysis. She graduated in 1949 with a doctorate in mathematics, and a dissertation titled On Languerre Series in the Complex Domain. Granville did not know at the time that she shared the distinction of being one of the first African-American women to earn a doctorate in mathematics. The other woman, Majorie Lee Browne, earned her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1949.

Struggled to Find a Teaching Job

Granville spent the following year working as a postdoctoral fellow at New York Universitys Institute for Mathematics and as a part-time instructor in the mathematics department. She had applied for several academic positions, but received no offers. Granville never perceived that she was being discriminated against because of her sex or race. However, biographer Patricia C. Kenschaft reported that she discovered, through interviews with faculty at institutions where Granville had applied, that race was the reason Granville did not receive job offers.

In 1950 Granville accepted a position at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. The head of the mathematics department, a white man named Lee Lorch, was an ardent civil rights activist who was committed to providing black women with employment opportunities equal to their talents. Lorch eventually lost several academic jobs, including his position at Fisk in 1952, because of his civil rights activities. Granville taught at Fisk until 1952 and mentored Vivienne Malone Mayes and Etta Zuber Falconer, two other black women who would go on to earn doctorates in mathematics. However, Granville missed the cosmopolitan lifestyle of the East Coast and decided to move back to Washington, D.C. According to Murray, Granvillewho had wanted to become a teacher since she was a little girlwas unable to accept the highly restrictive terms under which black women could hold academic positions in the early 1950s.

Granville accepted a job in Washington, D.C., at the National Bureau of Standards, which was later renamed the Diamond Ordnance Fuze Laboratories. While working on the development of missile fuzes, she met several computer programmers in the department and became interested in this new and growing field. From 1954 to 1956 Granville also served on the U.S. Civil Service Commission Panel of Examiners for the Department of Commerce.

Benefited from the Space Race

In 1956 Granville joined the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM). She worked with the state-of-the-art computer of that time, the IBM 650, and learned the computer language SOAP. Granville found computer programming to be challenging and enjoyable as an exercise in logic and problem solving. After a year in the Washington, D.C. office, Granville transferred to work as a consultant for an IBM subsidiary in New York City called the Data Processing Center of the Service Bureau Corporation. However, she did not enjoy living in New York City, and moved back to the Washington, D.C. office to work on a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in its Vanguard Computing Center. In the midst of the space race between the United States and Russia, Granville applied her skills to orbit computations and computing procedures for Project Vanguard and Project Mercury. I can say without a doubt that this was the most interesting job of my lifetimeto be a member of a group responsible for writing computer programs to track the paths of vehicles in space, Granville wrote in SAGE.

In 1960, while vacationing in southern California, Granville met her future husband at a community church. Granville soon married the Rev. Gamaliel Mansfield Collins and moved to his home in California. From 1960 to 1961 she worked in the Computation and Data Reduction Center of Space Technology Laboratories, computing the calculations for space trajectories. In 1962 she became a research specialist with the space and information systems division of the North American Aviation Company (NAA). There Granville worked on celestial mechanics, trajectory and orbit computations, numerical analysis, and digital computer techniques. She became a specialist for the Apollo project. In 1963 Granville returned to IBM in the federal systems division, where she worked on similar projects. Due to the volume of contract work from NASA at this time, Granville had the luxury of changing jobs at will to find the most interesting and best paying work at the time. During this time she was also appointed by the governor of California to serve on the psychology examining committee of the Board of Medical Examiners for the State of California, a position which she held until 1970.

Returned to Teaching

In 1967 Granville made several major changes in her life. She divorced her husband and changed her career from government work to academia. NASA had cut back much of its funding, which made it difficult for Granville to continue the work that she had enjoyed doing with the space projects. In 1967 she became an assistant professor of mathematics at California State University in Los Angeles. She taught computer programming, numerical analysis, and required math to prospective elementary school teachers. In 1968 she also began teaching for the Miller Mathematical Improvement Project, which encouraged college professors to teach at elementary schools. Granville taught second-and fifth-grade mathematics on a part-time basis and also taught evening classes at the University of Southern California. I was happy in my work and I felt that I was a good teacher; hence, the full schedule was not a burden to me, Granville wrote in SAGE.

In 1970 Granville married her second husband, Edward V. Granville, a real estate broker. In 1975 she coauthored a mathematics textbook with Jason Frand titled Theory and Application of Mathematics for Teachers. A second edition was published in 1978. Granville continued to teach at California State University until she retired in 1984 with the rank of full professor.

Granvilles retirement was short-lived. She and her husband moved to Texas, where Granville joined the Van Independent School District, teaching eighthgrade mathematics, high school algebra, and computer literacy. Granville quickly learned that high school students were more difficult to handle than college students, and she left the job after three months. From 1985 to 1988 Granville taught computer science at Texas College, a predominantly black school. In 1990 she was appointed the Sam A. Lindsey Professor of Mathematics at the University of Texas in Tyler, where she taught until her retirement in 1997. Granville then began a public speaking tour to share her story and encourage mathematics education at all levels. In a 2000 speech at Yale University, Granville stated, according to the Christian Science Monitor, I believe that math is in grave danger of joining Latin and Greek on the heap of subjects which were once deemed essential but are now, at least in America, regarded as relics of an obsolete, intellectual tradition.

Granville never realized that her pursuit of an education in a field that she enjoyed would result in the honor of being one of the first African-American women to earn a doctorate in mathematics. She now uses her fame to inspire others to follow her path. According to the Hartford Courant, in the year 2000 men still outnumbered women five to one in holding doctoral degrees in mathematics. In 1981 Granville told Patricia C. Kenschaft in the American Mathematical Monthly, I always smile when I hear that women cannot excel in mathematics.

Selected writings

On Laguerre Series in the Complex Domain (dissertation), Yale University, 1949.

Theory and Application of Mathematics for Teachers, Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1975.

Sources

Books

Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd edition, Gale, 1998.

Math & Mathematicians: The History of Math Discoveries Around the World, U*X*L, 1999.

Murray, Margaret A. M., Women Becoming Mathematicians, MIT Press, 2000.

Warren, Wini, Black Women Scientists in the United States, Indiana University Press, 1999.

Periodicals

American Mathematical Monthly, October 1981, pp. 592-604.

Hartford Courant, February 24, 2000, p. A3.

Houston Chronicle, February 8, 1998, p. A45.

SAGE: A Scholarly Journal on Black Women, Fall 1989, pp. 44-46.

On-line

University of Buffalo Mathematics, http://www.math.buffalo.edu/

Princeton University, http://www.princeton.edu/

University of St. Andrews, http://www.-groups.dcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/

Christian Science Monitor, http://www.csmonitor.com

Janet P. Stamatel

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Granville, Evelyn Boyd 1924–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 12 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Granville, Evelyn Boyd 1924–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 12, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/granville-evelyn-boyd-1924

"Granville, Evelyn Boyd 1924–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/granville-evelyn-boyd-1924

Evelyn Boyd Granville

Evelyn Boyd Granville

Evelyn Boyd Granville (born 1924) was the first Africian 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.

Throughout her career Granville shared her energy with a variety of professional and service organizations and boards. Many of them, including the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the American Association of University Women, focused on education and mathematics. Others, such as the U.S. Civil Service Panel of Examiners of the Department of Commerce and the Psychology Examining Committee of the Board of Medical Examiners of the State of California, reflected broader civic interests.

When asked to summarize her major accomplishments, Granville told Hall, "First of all, showing that women can do mathematics." Then she added, "Being an African American woman, letting people know that we have brains too."

Further Reading

Grinstein, Louise S., and Paul J. Campbell, editors, Women of Mathematics, Greenwood Press, 1987, pp. 57-61.

Hine, Darlene Clark, editor, Black Women in America, Volume 1, Carlson, 1993, pp. 498-499.

Women, Numbers and Dreams, U.S. Department of Education, 1982, pp. 99-106.

Kenschaft, Patricia C., "Black Women in Mathematics in the United States," in The American Mathematical Monthly, October, 1981, pp. 592-604. □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Evelyn Boyd Granville." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 12 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Evelyn Boyd Granville." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 12, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/evelyn-boyd-granville

"Evelyn Boyd Granville." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/evelyn-boyd-granville