In Memory of a MATHgical Life

Dr. Gloria F. Gilmer

I remember the day I eagerly messaged Dr. Shelly Jones, our December 2019, featured mathematician and author of Women Who count, a coloring and activity book highlighting the stories of 20 black women mathematicians. One of those mathematicians was THE Dr. Gloria F. Gilmer! I knew I wanted to feature her in an upcoming Black Girl MATHgic box. Dr. Jones introduced me to Dr. Gilmer’s daughter, Jill, and the ball officially began rolling!

“Perceiving that you can be successful in mathematics is important to self-confidence.” 

Gloria Ford was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1928. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from Morgan State University and a Master of Arts in mathematics from the University of Pennsylvania. She taught mathematics in public schools and at several Historically Black Colleges and Universities. 

After marriage and children, and working outside of the university for a few years, Dr. Gilmer earned a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from Marquette University in Milwaukee Wisconsin. 

Dr. Gilmer was a leader in the field of Ethnomathematics, the study of how different people, in different cultures, use mathematics.

Throughout her career, Dr. Gilmer was actively involved in several professional organizations. She was the first Black female on the board of governors of the Mathematical Association of America (1980-82); she served as a Research Associate with the U.S. Department of Education; and in 1992, she was the first woman to give the National Association of Mathematician’s Cox-Talbot Address. Dr. Gilmer was the president of Math-Tech, a corporation that translates research findings into effective programs of mathematics education, especially for women and minorities. She co-authored two mathematics research articles with Luna I. Mishoe that were the first two (non-Ph.D. thesis) articles published by an African American woman. 

Dr. Gilmer was a co-founder of the International Study Group on Ethnomathematics (ISGEm) in 1985, along with D’Ambrosio, Gil Cuevas and Rick Scott. She was the first president of the organization and also served on the Executive Board. ISGEm strives to increase our understanding of the cultural diversity of mathematical practices.  She was president of the organization for eleven years and remained on the board as Past president for many years. She is known for her paper on Using Technology to Explore Mathematical Patterns in African American Hairstyles, such as corn rows. She linked how these hair tessellations (patterns) were often similar to the patterns found in nature. She especially enjoyed showing her students that mathematics can be found in many unexpected places. 

Dr. Gilmer was featured in our February 2020 – Love Your Hair box.

Dr. Gilmer, along with her daughter Jill, discussed how she would visit hair salons and would study different patterns hairstylists used when braiding hair, and of course, how math fits into those patterns, called tessellations. She talks about her love for math and what first got her interested in it.

Dr. Gilmer’s box was a mathematical celebration and curation of black hair and self-love.

Thank you, Dr. Gilmer, for your countless contributions to mathematics, American history, Black history, and society. We will ensure your legacy lives on. 

“Anyone will look forward to learning math if they understand its relevance to their life, home, and community.”

Jones, S. Black History Month 2021 honoree. Mathematically Gifted and Black.