October 26, 1935 -
Gloria Conyers Hewitt was born in Sumter, South Carolina on October 26, 1935. In 1962, she became the fourth African-American women ever to receive a doctorate degree in mathematics. When asked at what point she realized her interest in pursuing a career in mathematics, she often refers to her college years at Fisk University: "I remember when I took calculus in college the only book I took home over the Christmas holidays was my calculus book. I wanted to do those word problems. I worked on one problem for the whole two weeks before I solved it. It wasn't that hard, but I just didn't understand the process involved. When the light dawned, I was so happy! I don't believe I ever felt so rewarded. It was a major breakthrough. I was hooked. After that, to the amazement of my fellow students, I recall sitting on campus doing calculus problems for recreation" (personal interview).
Hewitt completed her Bachelors of Science degree at Fisk University. She studied under Lee Lorch for her first two years at Fisk. Lorch had so much confidence in Hewitt's mathematical ability that he recommended her to two schools (one being the University of Washington) without her knowledge. Thus, in her senior year Hewitt was offered a fellowship from the University of Washington without ever applying for it. In turn, Lee Lorch had quite a significant influence on Hewitt's life, as she states "...the thought of entering graduate school in mathematics never crossed my mind. I never knew it crossed his [Lorch's] until I heard of his recommendation" (Kenschaft 69). She completed her Ph.D. at Washington in 1962 with a thesis on "Direct and Inverse Limits of Abstract Algebras" under the direction of Richard Pierce.
In 1961, just before the completion of her degree, Hewitt joined the faculty at the University of Montana. Eleven years later she received full professorship and, today, she is the Chair of the Department of Mathematical Sciences.
Hewitt has numerous other accomplishments and responsibilities aside from her professorship. From 1964 to 1972, Hewitt was a visiting lecturer for the Mathematical Association of America. Then, for 1972 to 1975, she served on the executive council for the mathematical honor society, Pi Mu Epsilon. She has also worked with the committee that writes questions for the mathematics section of the Graduate Record Exam, and served as chair for this committee form 1984 to 1986. In addition, Hewitt has worked as a reader and a table leader for the Advanced Placement calculus examinations. She also served four years on the Calculus Development Committee where she helped develop syllabi for the Advanced Placement calculus courses and write the examinations [ETS Certification of Appreciation.] Hewitt has also co-authored a publication which was displayed at the mathematical institute in Beijing, China during the Women of Mathematics tour. Presently, Hewitt serves on the Board of Governors of the Mathematical Association of America.
As only the fourth African-American woman to receive her doctorate degree in mathematics, one would expect that Hewitt would have had to deal with many racial and gender oriented obstacles to her success. However, Hewitt stated in a personal interview that she does not feel there has been any racial incidences in her career that have had a detrimental effect on her studies of mathematics. She goes on to say that "Some of my fellow graduate students did all they could to help and encourage me. They included me in most of their activities. I know this situation was not the norm for a lot of Blacks studying mathematics, but I was fortunate enough to be at the right place at the right time" (personal interview).
In conclusion, Hewitt made a statement that not only applies to success in mathematics but success in any field, "In short, my life in mathematics was, and still to a great extent is, shaped by opening doors. I have always taken advantage and walked in" (personal interview).
The information included in this biography is partially based on a personal interview by the author, November 4, 1995).
Gloria Hewitt retired from the University of Montana in May, 1999, with the title of Professor Emeritus. The resolution passed by the Board of Regents of the Montana University System noted that
Gloria Hewitt was hired as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mathematics in Fall 1961. She was born and raised in Summer, South Carolina, and received her B.A. from Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. She received her M.S. (1960) and Ph.D. (1962) degrees from the University of Washington, becoming the third [note: now known to be fourth] black woman in the U.S. to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics. She has been a demanding and inspirational teacher during her 38 years at the University, has supervised one Ph.D. and numerous Masters students, and has been a mentor to many undergraduate students. Professor Hewitt has served on numerous national committees and panels for various professional organizations and agencies including the Mathematical Association of America, the National Science Foundation, the National Security Agency and the National Academy of Sciences. She served as Chair of the Department of Mathematical Sciences from 1995 to 1999. During this time she increased the visibility of the department, raised over $500,000 in gifts to endow innovative new programs to support undergraduate and graduate mathematics students, and oversaw renovations to modernize the Mathematics building. Professor Hewitt was recently recognized for her work with the 1999 UM Academic Administrator award. She is also profiled in the 1998 book, Women in Mathematics.
Photo Credit: Photograph is used with permission of the MAA Committee on Participation of Women and is taken from Winning Women Into Mathematics, published by the Mathematical Association of America, 1991.