Do you know who the first African-American woman to receive a Ph.D. in Mathematics was? Well, let me tell you. She was Marjorie Lee Browne! She was a famous Mathematics educator of her times.
Marjorie and her childhood
Marjorie was born on 9 September 1914 in Tennessee. Marjorie was only 2 when her mother Mary Taylor Lee died and she was then raised by her stepmother who her father had married. Her father Lawrence Johnson Lee was also a math wizard though he worked as a railway postal clerk. He used to discuss mathematical problems and their solutions at home with his children. Marjorie developed a liking for the subject ever since her childhood.
She was at the LeMoyne High School and was good in sports at high school. She had won the Memphis city women’s tennis singles championship at the high school.
Marjorie went on to join Howard University and majored in Mathematics. She graduated in 1935. She worked as a teacher in school and college for a while especially at New Orleans. During her time there were not many US Universities which were accepting African-Americans. She got enrolled in the graduate program in Mathematics of the University of Michigan.
She procured a teaching fellowship at Michigan and completed her thesis in 1949. It was titled “Studies of One-Parameter Subgroups of Certain Topological and Matrix Groups,”
Her career in the field of Mathematics
She initially worked with secondary school Mathematics programs and focused especially on encouraging math education in women and minorities. She then joined the North Carolina Central University where she conducted her research and was at this college for nearly thirty years. She also headed the Mathematics department of the University for most of this time (1951-1970). She has worked at this place as a principal investigator, coordinator, and also as a lecturer.
Marjorie’s major work was on linear and matrix algebra. Marjorie knew early that computers are a major boon for learning and had written to IBM in 1960 to get a computer for NCCU. This was the first computer that was procured for a black school.
Marjorie would select the gifted mathematicians and provide financial assistance to them to for their higher education programs. Many of her students went on to gain a great name for themselves and their institute.
She was the founder of summer institutes where high school teachers were given continuing education and for her wonderful and remarkable work in the field of Mathematics education, Marjorie had received the first W. W. Rankin Memorial Award from the North Carolina Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
She was also a member of several associations and societies related to her field where she also held several posts. She also had many publications in her name.
Her personal life
Marjorie was never married and has no children. She had devoted her whole life to her subject and students. She also had no known relationships or affairs. Getting such a high qualification during the time that there was prejudice against the Africans speaks of her grit and hard work.
Marjorie died of a heart attack in Durham, North Carolina. This happened on 19 October 1979. A foundation was started in her name by her 4 students which is still running. There are scholarships and also lecture series held to remember her.