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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

African American in Mathematics: Gloria Ford Gilmer

               Last week’s article covered Benjamin Banneker, an African American mathematician who lived in the 18th century and worked with Thomas Jefferson on scientific and social issues. Much has happened in America since then, but African Americans are still greatly under represented in the field of mathematics. Gloria Ford Gilmer’s passion for math surpasses the disadvantages of being a woman of color in the field, and has contributed a whole lot to mathematics as a student and as a teacher.
Gloria Ford Gilmer in 1999.
           Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Gloria attended Morgan State University in the 1950’s, where she studied under Clarence Stephens, a prolific African American Mathematician. Her love for math was deeper than simply attaining a PhD, and she published two papers alongside Clarence as an undergraduate on the subject of Eigen function series. Her achievement drove her to become the first African American woman without a PhD to publish a math paper. Gloria went on to earn a BS from Morgan University and an MA from the University of Pennsylvania; she would go on to earn a PhD in curriculum and instruction, but first took a break from her studies to teach and care for her family.
            Before she gained a PhD, Gloria taught at six different historically black universities and became an inspiration to many minorities and women through teaching, all while her personal life bloomed with a marriage and children.  For two years in the beginning of the 1980’s Gloria represented African American Women on the board of the Mathematical Association of America, and was the first woman of color to do so.
            In 1985, Gloria co-founded and became the president of the International Study Group of Ethnomathematics, and was leading the field of ethno mathematics, the study of mathematical structures in certain cultures. Gloria has worked in the field to bring the rich complexity of mathematics and African American culture together, and provided a platform that reaches a wide variety of people due to its interesting mathematical nature.

Photo from Gilmer's 1998 paper, Mathematical Patterns in African American Hairstyles.
            Gloria died in 1999,  but continues to be an inspiration to many people thanks to her drive and love for mathematics, not to mention her great accomplishments in and for the world of under represented groups in mathematics.


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