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Elbert Frank Cox

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In 1925, Elbert Frank Cox became the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics. He taught for 40 years and inspired future Black mathematicians.


Elbert Frank Cox earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Indiana. In 1925, he became the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics. He taught for 40 years at West Virginia State College and Howard University. After he retired, Howard established a scholarship fund in Cox's name to encourage future Black mathematicians.


Elbert Frank Cox was born on December 5, 1895 in Evansville, Indiana. After graduating from Indiana University in 1917, Cox served in World War I and then pursued a career in teaching. In 1925, he earned his Ph.D. in mathematics from Cornell University, becoming the first African American to earn the degree in the United States and, in fact, the world.

After earning his degree, Cox taught at West Virginia State College and then at Howard University, where he remained until his retirement in 1965. Ten years later, the Howard University Mathematics Department established the Elbert F. Cox Scholarship Fund to encourage young Black undergraduates to pursue mathematic studies at the graduate level. Cox died on November 28, 1969, and though he did not live to see his scholarship or the Ph. D. program launched, it is certain that it was he who made it possible.

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