How Martha Euphemia Lofton Hayes Made History

How Martha Euphemia Lofton Hayes Became The First Black Woman To Earn Her PhD In Mathematics

A Pioneering Spirit in Mathematics

Martha Euphemia Lofton Haynes, born on September 11, 1890, in Washington, D.C., etched her name in history as the first Black woman to earn a doctoral degree in mathematics.

Her journey to this remarkable achievement was paved with unwavering determination and a passion for education that transcended societal barriers.

“For a person of intelligence is well equipped to solve the problems of life…We must have some defined aim in life and be able to fill competently that position in which we may find ourselves…Let each defeat be a source of a new endeavor and each victory the strengthening of our spirit of gratitude and charity towards the unsuccessful.”

These prophetic words, spoken during her valedictorian speech at M Street high school in 1907, foreshadowed Haynes’ relentless pursuit of excellence.

Trailblazing Academic Achievements

Haynes’ academic prowess shone brightly from an early age. After graduating from M Street high school, she went on to obtain a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Smith College in 1914.

Her thirst for knowledge remained unquenched, and in 1930, she earned a master’s degree in education from the University of Chicago, where her thesis explored the complexities of student assessment and progress evaluation.

“Her thesis studied the difficulty of tests in helping understand the causes and variations in student scores.”

Shattering Glass Ceilings: Earning a PhD in Mathematics

The year 1943 marked a historic milestone for Haynes and the entire Black community. It was then that she graduated from the Catholic University of America (CUA) with her doctorate degree in mathematics, becoming the first Black woman to achieve such a feat.

Her dissertation, titled “The Determination of Sets of Independent Conditions Characterizing Certain Special Cases of Symmetric Correspondences,” was a testament to her intellectual prowess and groundbreaking research.

A Lifetime Dedicated to Education and Advocacy

Haynes’ impact extended far beyond her academic achievements. She founded the mathematics department at Miner Teachers College (later renamed the University of the District of Columbia), where she served as a professor and the head of the department for nearly three decades. Her dedication to education and advocacy for equality was unwavering.

In 1960, Haynes became a member of the D.C. school board, and three years later, she spoke out against the use of IQ tests, drawing from her master’s thesis work.

Her advocacy played a pivotal role in desegregating D.C. public schools and dismantling the discriminatory tracking system that segregated students based on their race.

“In 1965, administrators, educational experts, and parents successfully petitioned the school system, which led to an investigation which found evidence of discrimination: ‘most students on the honors track were white and students on the basic track were Black.’”

A Legacy that Inspires Generations

Haynes’ contributions to mathematics and education have left an indelible mark on the academic community.

In 2018, 75 years after her historic achievement, CUA established the Euphemia Lofton Haynes Award, honoring a junior mathematics major who has demonstrated excellence and promise in their study of the subject.