Vivienne Malone-Mayes and Waco, Texas

Vivienne Malone-Mayes grew up in Waco, TX, a highly segregated community in a highly segregated state. She attended a highly segregated high school where she graduated two years early at the age of 16 so she could pursue Mathematics at Fisk University, where she graduated in four years with a bachelor’s’ degree and another two years with a masters’. She worked as a professor at Paul Quinn College and Bishop College.

In 1961, she applied to take additional courses to begin her PhD work at Baylor University – my alma mater – but was rejected explicitly for her race. Required by federal law, the University of Texas admitted her (Baylor is a private university). Though she was admitted, she was not welcomed. “My mathematical isolation was complete,” she noted as she described her experience being the only female and the only African-American in many of her courses*.

Despite these challenges, Malone-Mayes obtained her PhD in 1966 with her thesis A structure problem in asymptotic analysis. Throughout her education she took part in civil rights demonstrations.

After she graduated with her PhD, she became the first full-time African American professor at Baylor University, the institution which had rejected her from taking courses just a few years prior. There she was voted the most outstanding faculty member by the student congress in 1971.


This is an excerpt profiling mathematicians from my forthcoming book. It’ll be in the appendix along with other famous mathematicians and should-be-famous mathematicians.

I say “should-be-famous” because I’d never heard of Malone-Mayes. And I graduated from Baylor University, where she was rejected from taking classes because of her race and later a high profile university professor. I lived in Waco, TX for four years.

Part of the reason I’d never known Malone-Mayes was because of my own stupidity and probably-desired ignorance. But it’s kind of also on the University, isn’t it? I would have liked to have known of the achievements of this incredible woman while I was there. My classmates would have as well.

Why isn’t a fucking building named after Vivienne Malone-Mayes? Again, maybe things have changed since 2008. I’m sure there is a plaque somewhere on campus while I was attending, but I feel such shame for not knowing about Vivienne Malone-Mayes then and up until just a few days ago. I encourage you to look for what mathematical heroes may have been buried in your community. Please share them in the comments so we may unearth this invaluable, generally unspoken history and these amazing men and women.

For more on Malone-Mayes, I recommend this article from the Waco History Project, where the photo is taken from. See also, Complexities: Women in Mathematics.

*Case, Bettye Anne; Leggett, Anne M. (31 May 2016). Complexities: Women in mathematics.

You are the Name Rememberer


I’m just not good with names: It takes me a long time to remember them and even then I sometimes forget. 

Not anymore. For you are the Name Rememberer. The One Who Remembers Names.

It’s difficult with so many students. These first few months of school it’s hard to get names straight. I’m not a names person. 

It matters not. You will remember their names, Name Rememberer.

I’ve never been good with names. I can remember a face, but names are hard.

Maybe names are hard, maybe they are not. It doesn’t make any difference to you, the Name Rememberer.

I’ll get their names by the end of the month. It’s October, there’s still plenty of school year left.

You will get their names by tomorrow morning 8am. If this means you need to print out flash cards that is what you will do. If it means you need to find their address, drive to their house, wake their house up, and have a 30-minute conversation to remember their names, that is what you will do. That’s what the Name Rememberer does.

But I don’t know their addresses and I don’t have a car.

For every student that is in your class tomorrow whose name you do not know, you will give them free 100’s on assignments for a month. You will give each of them $100 a day until you remember their name. You will do 50 pushups for each student whose name you can’t immediately recall. And you will NOT under any circumstances make that face where you’re trying to think of their name.

But I have these kids that sit next to each other and they really look alike. What if I —

QUIET! You will learn every student’s name and you will learn them all now. Tomorrow morning you will stand by your door, greet each student BY NAME, and welcome them in to your classroom BY NAME.

But – 

SILENCE. You are wasting valuable time, Name Rememberer. Time that could be spent on remembering students’ names. The school day starts in 10 hours and you have names to remember. Or, as the Name Rememberer, do you have them all memorized? You have the proper pronunciations down seamlessly? First and last? There will be no beat skipping when you want to call on a student with his or her hand raised? 

Good. For tomorrow, you – in addition to being the Student Name Rememberer – will also become the What Students are Passionate About Knower.