August 9, 1903 - November 21, 2001
Dorothy McCoy was born in 1903 in the Oklahoma Territory, near Enid. She had a brother, Neal, who was eighteen months younger. When Dorothy was about three years old, her father died and her mother moved Dorothy and Neal back to the family home in the tiny town of Chesapeake, Missouri. After the children finished grade school, the family moved again to Marionville, Missouri, near the local high school. Both Dorothy and Neal went on to earn undergraduate degrees with honor from Baylor University in Texas and both received PhDs in mathematics from the University of Iowa in 1929. Dorothy McCoy's dissertation was on "The Complete Existential Theory of Eight Fundamental Properties of Topological Spaces." She was the first woman to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Iowa.
Neal McCoy become a professor of mathematics at Smith College where he was a noted algebraist and the well-known author of the widely used textbook Introduction to Modern Algebra. Dorothy McCoy taught at Belhaven College in Mississippi for twenty years. She then became a professor of mathematics at Wayland Baptist College in 1949, the same year the college (now a university) began offering four-year degrees. At Wayland she taught all levels of mathematics, was head of the department of mathematics and physics, and from 1949 to 1972 served as chairman of the Division of Physical and Biological Sciences. She also directed the honors program in mathematics for many years.
Dorothy McCoy continued her study of mathematics during the summers at the University of Chicago, Columbia University, Vanderbilt University and the University of Colorado. In 1954, she received a Fulbright Fellowship to teach in the College of Arts and Sciences of the University of Iraq in Baghdad. She combined this experience with visits to several European countries. Later travels took her to South America, Africa, and Indonesia. She visited more than 60 countries, some as a visiting professor and others for personal enjoyment. In Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) she gave an invited lecture to elementary and high school teachers in a Rhodesia teachers college. While visiting several African cities, she was often asked to help tutor missionary children in mathematics.
Dr. McCoy also spent several summers working on the government's missile program at Cape Canaveral and the Aberdeen Proving Grounds, as well as teaching mathematics at the University of Hawaii, University of New Mexico, Baylor University, Northwestern State College of Oklahoma and Texas Tech University.
Dorothy McCoy retired from Wayland in 1975 with the title of Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, the only member of the faculty to have received the title of both emeritus and distinguished. In 1980 Wayland began the Dorothy McCoy Lecture Series. In 1982 she received the first Distinguished Service to Students Award and in 1999 the first Distinguished Lifetime Service Alumni Award. No other faculty member has been longer associated with Wayland or had more honors bestowed upon her. Shortly before her death, Wayland Baptist University dedicated an honors dormitory for women in her name.
The following excerpts are from a letter sent by Dorothy McCoy to Professor Joan Hutchinson, Macalester College, in Spring 2001, and are used with the permission of both Professors McCoy and Hutchinson.
"Neal and I had a one room elementary school at Chesapeake, Mo. Neal was caught in a scheduling situation where he and I had 8th grade together but he was supposed to take 7th grade the next year. We both passed the County examination but from then on through Ph.D. we had almost identical courses together and did our dissertations under the same professor, Dr. Chittenden, though the dissertation areas were very different. Neal taught during our second year of graduate school and I did the third year which made me graduate 6 weeks later.
Somewhere in grade school a teacher told me the area of a parallelogram was the product of the two sides. I did not believe it so I went home and cut papers until I was sure she was wrong. In high school I was very impressed with the logic of geometry and loved the Q.E.D. at the end of proofs. We had trigonometry in high school so should have started calculus but were put in solid geometry. I remember the class all being at the board in analytical geometry and Professor Harrell showing Neal and me how to 'complete the square'. I was really impressed with it. Our last two years were worthless mathematically."
Photo Credit: Photographs are used with permission of Dorothy McCoy