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In Memoriam: Honoring Dr. Evelyn Boyd Granville - A Trailblazer in Mathematics

August 2023

Spelman College Remembers Dr. Evelyn Boyd Granville

With immense gratitude for a life well lived, the Spelman College community prepares for its 2023-2024 academic year by honoring the remarkable life and enduring legacy of Dr. Evelyn Boyd Granville. A pioneer in the field of mathematics, Dr. Granville's contributions left an indelible mark on countless lives, reshaping the landscape of academia and inspiring generations of students at Spelman and beyond. At its 119th commencement ceremony, on May 14, 2006, the College awarded Dr. Granville an honorary doctorate of science degree.

Born on May 1, 1924, in Washington, D.C., Dr. Granville displayed an early passion for education, which eventually led her to pursue a stellar academic journey. Although she initially planned to obtain a degree in French, she became fascinated with mathematics, physics and astronomy, was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa and earned her Bachelor of Mathematics degree summa cum laude from Smith College in 1945. Determined to challenge societal norms and pave the way for aspiring mathematicians, she went on to attain her Master's degree in Physics and Mathematics from Yale University in 1946, becoming one of the first African American women to do so.

Excelling in Academia

Her hunger for knowledge took her even further, as she obtained a Ph.D. in Mathematics from Yale in 1949, becoming only the second African American woman in history to earn such a prestigious degree. Driven by an unyielding passion for mathematics, she devoted herself to research and academia, ultimately leaving an unforgettable mark on the field.

Dr. Granville's journey took her to Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee where she embraced the opportunity to share her profound wisdom and mathematical prowess with the young minds of the future. One of her students was Etta Zuber Falconer, who later became an influential force and highly respected professor at Spelman.

Professor Emerita of the California State College University System, Dr. Granville will be remembered as a respected professor, mentor and role model. She inspired countless students to embrace the world of mathematics fearlessly and her unparalleled dedication to teaching and her warm, nurturing approach to education made her a beloved figure on campus and beyond.

Fueling Space Explorations 

Throughout her career, Dr. Granville made significant contributions to the field of mathematics, specifically in the realm of numerical analysis and computing. Her pioneering work in computing orbital mechanics paved the way for space exploration, and her mathematical insights proved invaluable for NASA's early missions. Her groundbreaking contributions to the field earned her numerous accolades and recognition from her peers, solidifying her position as one of the most prominent mathematicians of her time.

Recruited in 1956 by IBM to program a data-processing unit, Dr. Granville was part of the company’s team working with NASA after its founding in 1958. She was assigned to the satellite-focused Project Vanguard and later on the astronaut program Mercury that launched John Glenn aboard a rocket as the first American to orbit Earth. Dr. Granville wrote programs to track orbital trajectories, critical calculations that included safe reentry into the atmosphere.

In addition to the honorary degree she received from Spelman, Dr. Granville received honorary doctorates from Smith College, Lincoln University and Yale University. She is also the recipient of the Wilbur Lucius Cross Medal, the Yale Graduate School Alumni Association's highest honor; and was featured in a Yale Alumni Magazine cover story about 150 Years of Women at Yale. Granville was a National Academy of Engineering honoree; and was inducted into the National Academy of Sciences Portrait Collection of African Americans in Science.

Beyond her professional achievements, Dr. Granville was known for her humility, grace, and unwavering commitment to social justice. As an African American woman in a male-dominated field during an era of racial segregation, she faced numerous challenges and barriers, but she confronted them with resilience and unwavering determination. Her unwavering commitment to excellence and equality inspired countless individuals, proving that with dedication and perseverance, one could overcome any obstacle.

Today, we stand in awe of the life of Dr Granville, forever grateful for her brilliance, compassion, and leadership. Her pioneering contributions to mathematics and her profound impact on the lives of her students will continue to resonate for generations to come. As we bid farewell to a beloved educator, mentor, and visionary, let us celebrate her legacy by continuing to foster a love for mathematics and encouraging diversity and inclusion in academia.

May her memory serve as a guiding light, inspiring all of us to reach for the stars and embrace the beauty of mathematics as she did. Rest in eternal peace, Dr. Evelyn Boyd Granville. Your legacy lives on in the hearts of the Spelman College community and all those whose lives you touched.

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