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Evelyn Boyd Granville

The Hidden Figure (1924)

The 2016 Academy Award-nominated film “Hidden Figures” revolved around Project Mercury, a project that saw John Glenn become the first American to orbit the earth in 1962. The film was emancipatory in nature, as it paid special attention to the way the recorded history of this project had been downplaying the accomplishments of African-American women contributing to this endeavour.

In total, Hidden Figures succeeded in shedding light on the work of seven African-American women that pioneered in the field of Mathematics - one of which is NASA scientist Katherine Johnson. Unfortunately, the film failed to include the work of another pioneer whose contributions to the field had been equally groundbreaking. Perhaps even more than the seven pioneers mentioned, this one, Dr. Evelyn Boyd Granville, could be equally described a hidden figure.

Attending high school in 1930s Washington D.C, Evelyn experienced racial segregation at the Dunbar High School. Nevertheless, she never experienced the same discrimination when it came to gender: “Fortunately for me, as I was growing up, I never heard the theory that females aren’t equipped mentally to succeed in Mathematics”. Even if she had, though, she would have proven it wrong by becoming the nation’s second black woman to receive a PhD in Mathematics from Yale University in 1949. She would continue to work professionally as a mathematician for the subsequent seven years.

In 1956, however, Evelyn launched her career in the United States’ space program by accepting a position at IBM that, at that time, was a contractor to NASA. Evelyn personally designed computer software that helped the latter to analyze satellite orbits for the aforementioned Project Mercury missions. As such, Evelyn became instrumental in developing orbital calculations that eventually launched rockets - and even people - into space. Her contribution to the space program would not stop here. In 1962, Evelyn enlisted to the subsequent Apollo Program that would eventually see the first humans landing on the moon. Before that would happen seven years later, though, she returned to IBM in 1967 to resume her career as a mathematician.

Although having received numerous awards for her contributions to both Mathematics as Computer Science, Evelyn mostly has a rich legacy focused on sharing her incredible knowledge with the next generations through numerous organizations and boards. In addition, she co-authored a didactic textbook for the teaching of Mathematics to elementary school students. Most notably, when asked to summarize her major accomplishments herself, Evelyn proudly stated the following: “Being an African American woman, letting people know we have brains too”.

Evelyn Boyd Granville


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