September 9, 1914 - October 19, 1979
Marjorie Lee Browne was born to Mary Taylor Lee and Lawrence Johnson Lee, in Memphis, Tennessee, on September 9, 1914. Marjorie was encouraged to study math by her father and step-mother (her mother died when she was two).
Marjorie went to LeMoyne High School (a private school) after attending public school in Memphis. Then she went on to graduate cum laude from Howard University in 1935.
She briefly taught at Gilbert Academy in New Orleans. She earned her M.S. in mathematics from the University of Michigan in 1939, then joined the Wiley College faculty in Marshall, Texas, and started working on her doctorate in Michigan during summers. She became a teaching fellow in 1947 at the University of Michigan. In 1949, Marjorie earned her doctorate in mathematics. She was among the first Black women to earn a doctorate in mathematics. [Evelyn Boyd Granville also received a Ph.D. in mathematics in 1949, from Yale University. Euphemia Lofton Haynes received her Ph.D. in mathematics from the Catholic University of America in 1943.]
Doctor Browne went to North Carolina College (now North Carolina Central University) where she taught mathematics after graduating from Michigan University. She soon became the chair of the Mathematics department in 1951; she resigned as department chair in 1970. She stayed at NCCU until she retired in 1979.
In the years of 1952-1953, Marjorie won a Ford Foundation fellowship to study combinatorial topology at Cambridge University and traveled throughout western Europe. Dr. Browne was a National Science Foundation Faculty Fellow studying computing and numerical analysis at the University of California at Los Angeles. When she studied differential topology at Columbia University in 1965-66, she won a similar fellowship.
Four years before Marjorie's retirement, in 1975, Dr. Browne was the first recipient of the W.W. Rankin Memorial Award for Excellence in Mathematics Education, given by the North Carolina Council of Teachers of Mathematics. "She pioneered in the Mathematics Section of the North Carolina Teachers Association, helping to pave the way for integrated organizations," as the award states.
In the last years of her life, Marjorie Lee Browne used her own money to help gifted math students pursue their education. Some students came to her with less than adequate preparations and she helped them pursue study of mathematics and complete their Ph.D. degrees. Unfortunately, on October 19, 1979, Dr. Marjorie Lee Browne died of a heart attack at the age of 65.
Marjorie Lee Browne's Ph.D. dissertation was on "Studies of one parameter subgroups of certain topological and matrix groups," written under the direction of G.Y. Rainich at the University of Michigan. Her paper, "A Note on the Classical Groups," was published in The American Mathematical Monthly, June-July 1955, 424-427. This paper set forth some topological properties of and relations between certain classical groups. Browne writes in the paper that "while much of the material included here may be known to a few, the main interest of this paper lies in the simplicity of the proofs of some important, though obscured, results."
In addition to her own grants and fellowships to pursue mathematical studies, Browne received several grants to support the teaching of mathematics at North Carolina Central University. This institution became the first predominantly Black institution to be awarded an NSF Institute for secondary teachers of mathematics, a program Browne directed for 13 summers. In 1960, through her efforts, NCCU received a grant from IBM for the support of academic computing. In 1969 she obtained for her department the first Shell Grant for awards to outstanding mathematics students. For twenty five years she was the only person in the mathematics department at NCCU with a Ph.D. in mathematics. She taught both undergraduate and graduate courses, and served as an advisor for ten Master's degrees 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.