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In 1949, mathematician Marjorie Lee Browne became one of the first two African-American women to earn a Ph.D. in her field.
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Born in Tennessee in 1914, Marjorie Lee Browne was a gifted mathematician and educator. In 1949, she became one of the first two African American women to earn a Ph.D. in her field. She set up the first electronic digital computer center at a minority school, North Carolina College, in 1960.
Mathematician and educator Marjorie Lee Browne was born on September 19, 1914, in Memphis, Tennessee. A pioneering academic, Browne earned her Ph.D. in mathematics in 1949 from the University of Michigan, the same year Evelyn Boyd Granville received her doctorate in math from Yale, making the two of them the first African-American women to earn Ph.D.s in their field.
The daughter of Mary Taylor Lee and her husband Lawrence Johnson Lee, Browne never really knew her mother, who died when she was just 2 years old. Her father, a transportation postal clerk with an astute appreciation for numbers, remarried shortly after his first wife's death. He and his second wife Lottie, a school teacher, encouraged their gifted daughter to take her studies seriously.
Lawrence, despite the rough racial climate, pushed his children to get the very best education possible. For Browne, that meant attending LeMoyne High School, a private institution that catered to black students. From there, Browne put together enough funds to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C. -- an impressive feat in the Depression. Browne graduated cum laude in 1935.
Her post college life then re-routed her to New Orleans, where she landed a teaching job at Gilbert Academy. Determined to advance her education, Browne left her job after only a year and relocated to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she earned her master's (1939) and eventually her doctorate (1949) from the University of Michigan.
As an academic, Brown left her greatest mark at North Carolina College (now called North Carolina Central University) in Durham, where she joined the school's faculty immediately after earning her Ph.D.
In 1951, Browne was named Chair of the Mathematics Department. She used that position to help her school pioneer some of the earliest computer use in her field. In 1960, Browne received a $60,000 grant from IBM to set up an electronic digital computer center at North Carolina College, one of the first of its kind at a minority college.
During her time at North Carolina Central University, Browne taught both undergraduate and graduate courses. Her work as an educator was so adored that she later published four sets of lecture notes for other teachers to follow. Under her direction, her college became home to a prized National Science Foundation Institute for secondary education in the area of mathematics.
Browne's work also took her to other parts of the country, as well as the world. In the early 1950s she was awarded a Ford Foundation grant that allowed her to attend Cambridge University, where she studied topology, a modern version of geometry that became Browne's specialty.
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