Although not featured in the popular film, mathematician Evelyn Boyd Granville surely deserves acclaim alongside Katherine Johnson and the other “Hidden Figures” we’ve celebrated in previous installments of Pioneers in Tech. Granville was the second African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics.
Born May 1, 1924, Granville grew up in Washington, D.C., where she graduated from Dunbar High School as one of five valedictorians. Throughout her career, which led her to become a fierce advocate for STEM education, Granville extolled the perspective espoused during her education as a Black student in 1930s D.C. “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,” she wrote in a 1989 article for SAGE: A Scholarly Journal on Black Women.
Through the encouragement of her homeroom teacher and the financial support of her aunt, Granville entered Smith College in 1941. Her initial plan was to study French, but she soon discovered her love for math. Astronomy fascinated her, and in the SAGE article she wrote that she would have changed her major to the subject if she had known of the space program to come.
She still found her way to the space program. After graduating from Smith, she attended Yale, where she earned her Ph.D. In July 1952, she began working as a mathematician at the National Bureau of Standards. There she was introduced to computer programming, which led to positions working on NASA projects for IBM. Granville worked on Project Vanguard, the first U.S. effort to launch a satellite, as well as Project Mercury, the first man-in-space program.
Granville began teaching at the university level and moved to East Texas, where she taught computer science at Tyler College. She ultimately returned to Washington, D.C., where she now lives in a retirement community.
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