Black Woman Mathematician Breaks Barriers In Library Of Congress

Photo: Milwaulkee Journal Sentinel Obituary

A Black woman from Milwaukee made history when her work was featured in the Library of Congress.

According to Good Morning America, Gloria Ford Gilmer, a former Milwaukee math teacher and leader in the field of ethnomathematics, is the first Black woman mathematician to have research in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress.

Last year, Library of Congress historian Josh Levy sought to acquire the research of Gilmer, who died in August 2021 at age 93. Her daughter, Jill Gilmer, immediately fulfilled the request.

“When the Library of Congress reached out to me, I was blown away…it was interesting to see that all the work that she had done was being recognized. It was really an honor,” she told GMA.

The acclaimed mathematician was the first Black math instructor for the Milwaukee Public Schools system and the Milwaukee Area Technical College, per Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Gilmer also made history as the first Black person to serve on the board of governors for the Mathematical Association of America.

Gilmer's research mainly covered ethnomathematics, which she referred to as “the math of the people.” The mathematician drew parallels between math and everyday cultural activities such as basketball and hair braiding.

“So, for instance, she said there’s math in basketball because the athletes estimate the angle that they’re shooting the ball at,” her daughter explained to GMA.

Gilmer's work joins the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress, which displays roughly 12,000 collections.

“Gloria Gilmer’s work really intertwines mathematics and civil rights in a way that’s not entirely unique to her,” Levy said in a statement. “You really get a sense from her papers, this is someone who cares very deeply about mathematics and this is someone who cares very deeply about justice.…We don’t have any collections that reflect the history of this movement. So she really is the first collection that we have that documents the findings of the ethnomathematics movement.”

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