It’s Simple Math
Born in 1924, Evelyn was a Great Depression baby raised and supported by her mother and aunt. When Evelyn attended Smith College in 1941, she wanted to be a French teacher at first but she quickly switched to mathematics because it was a subject she understood and excelled in. This helped her earn scholarship opportunities and to be in the honors program where she was free to study on her own. In 1949, Evelyn graduated from Yale University to become the second black woman in American history to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics. Her love for mathematics was growing and it would ascend her career literally into the stars.
“It never occurred to me to be the first,” she said, speaking of mentoring other black women mathematicians like Drs. Vivienne Malone Meyes and Etta Zuber Falconer. “I just wanted to do math.”
Evelyn’s scholarly pursuits stayed true to her words. In 1956, IBM was the company to work for, and it is where Evelyn learned to write programs for IBM 650, the first mass-produced computer. A year later, IBM had won a NASA contract in which Evelyn wrote programs for Project Vanguard, the first artificial satellite launch program, and for Project Mercury, the first human spaceflight program. In 1961, Evelyn was space computing and developing programs for satellite and spacecraft tracking at Space Technology Laboratory. Then she eventually went on to work on celestial mechanics and orbital computations at North American Aviation that supported Project Apollo!
To the moon and back, Evelyn’s longevity in mathematics wasn’t over. She proceeded to teach and advocate the importance of computer science and mathematics at colleges and universities until she retired at 75 years old. ‘Retired’, however is just a word for a woman like Evelyn. She would go on to host summer workshops and mentor teachers in mathematics until she admitted herself into an independent living facility. During an interview at age 90, Evelyn has told the news that she hasn’t stopped working and tutors the children of facility staff members. Evelyn is now 97, and what a journey to have taken with all that math!