MiSciNet's Ancestors of Science, Marjorie Lee Browne


Marjorie Lee Browne was born in Memphis, Tennessee, on 9 September 1914, and went on to become one of the most influential African-American mathematicians. Because she was among the first African-American women to receive a Ph.D., she used her vast knowledge and experience to help others enter and excel in mathematics careers. This teacher, researcher, and trailblazer helped lay the groundwork for future mathematicians.

Education was important to Browne's family. Her father, Lawrence Lee, was known for performing mental arithmetic and passed on his love of mathematics to his daughter. Lee was a railway postal clerk and had attended college for 2 years--a rarity for an African-American then. Because Browne's family was better off than most contemporary African Americans at the time, she attended the best schools available despite living in the segregated South.

After finishing the private, African-American LeMoyne High School, Browne attended Howard University in Washington, D.C. Despite the economic hardships caused by the Depression, she financed her college education through various scholarships, jobs, and loans. She graduated cum laude with a B.S. in mathematics from Howard University in 1935.

The following year, Browne taught mathematics and physics at Gilbert Academy in New Orleans, Louisiana, a private African-American high school. She then enrolled at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where she earned her master's degree in mathematics in 1939. From 1942 to 1945, she taught at historically black Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, while finishing her doctorate during the summers at the University of Michigan under G. Y. Rainich. Although it is unclear whether Browne earned her degree in 1949 or 1950, she was among the first three African-American women to receive a mathematics doctorate.

Browne then became a professor at another historically black college, North Carolina College [now North Carolina Central University (NCCU)] in Durham, North Carolina. She was a professor in the department of mathematics, which she chaired from 1951 to 1970. Although NCCU was primarily a teaching institution, Browne continued to do research, earning Ford Foundation and National Science Foundation ( NSF) fellowships in the process.

Besides teaching undergraduates and graduates, she ran summer programs to instruct high school math teachers. Browne received several mathematics teaching grants, including from ones NSF and IBM. Through her efforts, she received the first W. W. Rankin Memorial Award for Excellence in Mathematics Education in 1975. Browne died 4 years later of a heart attack in 1979, shortly after retiring. She was 65 years old.


1. E. Fogg, C. Davis, and J. Sutton, " Profile of Marjorie Lee Browne." Retrieved from the World Wide Web, Agnes Scott College's "Biographies of Women Mathematicians" Web Site on 28 July 2004.

2. S. Williams, " Profile of Marjorie Lee Browne." Retrieved from the World Wide Web, SUNY Buffalo Department of Mathematics Web site on 27 July 2004.

3. J. O'Connor and E. F. Robertson, " Profile of Marjorie Lee Browne." Retrieved from the World Wide Web, University of St. Andrews Department of Mathematics and Statistics Web site on 28 July 2004

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