Dudley Weldon Woodard

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3 October 1881
Galveston, Texas, USA
15 July 1965
Cleveland, Ohio, USA

Dudley Woodard was an American mathematician and educator who was the second African-American to earn a PhD in Mathematics.


Dudley Woodard's parents were Dudley R Woodard (1858-1941) and Geneva Anderson (born 1865). Dudley R Woodard, born in Atlanta, Georgia, worked as a Railway Mail Clerk. He married Geneva Anderson on 8 March 1881 in Galveston, Texas and their first child was Dudley Weldon Woodard, the subject of this biography. Dudley R Woodard married his second wife Lulu Worthy on 7 December 1893 in Pike, Georgia. He married his third wife Cora L Smith on 10 June 1896. He had several children with his second and third wives.

Dudley Woodard, the subject of this biography, was known as "Dee." Although he grew up at a time when African Americans were segregated and had poor educational prospects, he stated later in life:-
I do not recall feeling disadvantaged while growing up.
This can only mean that when he was a child his family supported him and made him feel that he had talents which, of course, he did. His father with a job as a Railway Mail Clerk was better off than most African Americans at this time. His primary and secondary education was in Texas, partly in Galveston and partly in San Antonio, Texas, where he was living when 13 years old. In the 1900 census, Woodard is living in Galveston, but not with his family, for he is a boarder at the house of Shiloh Morgan on 29th Street. The household consists of Morgan, his wife, their three sons, three daughters and five boarders. His father, married to Cora by the time of the 1900 census, was living in Austin. Texas. The data is a little confused since Woodard's father was born on 20 February 1858 but appears on the 1900 census form as being born in February 1861. Perhaps he pretended to his new wife that he was three years younger than he actually was. Later in the year 1900, Woodard moved to Ohio to study at Wilberforce College which had been founded by Methodists in 1856 to educate African Americans, particularly to train them as teachers. It is now Wilberforce University, achieving university status in 1965.

Woodard graduated from Wilberforce College in 1903 with an A.B. in mathematics. He was admitted to the University of Chicago where he was awarded a B.S. in 1906 and an M.S. in the following year. His Master's thesis was entitled On certain loci connected with the problem of two bodies. After the award of his Master's degree, Woodard was appointed to the Tuskegee Institute where he taught from 1907 to 1914. The Tuskegee Institute, in Tuskegee, Alabama, had been founded in 1881 as the Tuskegee Normal School for Colored Teachers. The President of the Tuskegee Institute was Booker T Washington, at that time a prominent African American educationalist who argued for a industrial and technical type education for African Americans.

A year after he began teaching at the Tuskegee Institute, Woodard married Gertrude Lee Hadnott in Birmingham, Jefferson County, Alabama on 4 August 1908. Woodard's age on the Marriage License is is given as 27 (he was actually still 26) and Gertrude's age is given as 25. They were married by Rev James Brown. On 29 June 1909 Dudley and Gertrude Woodard had a son Dudley Hadnott Woodard (1909-1996). At the 1910 census Woodard is living in a rented house outside the town of Tuskegee with his wife Gertrude and new baby Dudley H. Note that in 1900 his race is given as "black" but in 1910 as "mulatto" (i.e. mixed race).

While at Tuskegee, Woodard published Negro progress in a Mississippi town, being a study of conditions in Jackson, Mississippi (1909), Practical Arithmetic (1911), and The Teaching of Geometry at Tuskegee (1913). The book Practical Arithmetic shows that the Tuskegee Institute was following closely the industrial and business approach which Booker T Washington believed was the correct way to educate blacks. Here is the beginning of the 'Introductory Note' written by J R E Lee, the series editor:-
In presenting this volume the author endeavours to set forth matter which will give training and drill in all of the fundamental processes of arithmetic. The matter contained herein has all been taken by Mr D W Woodard, the author, from the industrial and business operations of the Institute. He has visited every department of the Institution, has examined all the books, and has had numerous conferences with every instructor. He has not found a single practical, workable operation in arithmetic that has not ben exemplified in some of the work connected with the Institution. The problems are therefore local in their setting. The Accounting Department, the Mechanical department with its various construction operations, and the Agricultural Department, through its planting, harvesting and productive endeavours, together with the various industries for the training of young women, have all furnished the material for the operations in this volume.
The title page gives the author as Dudley W Woodard, Head of Division of Mathematics, Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute. Woodard's Preface begins as follows:-
This book has been prepared in response to a long felt need of the students of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute. At this institution, the attempt is made to connect the arithmetic in a vital manner with the everyday interests and exercises of the students. The subject is presented as a necessary tool for doing certain things, for solving specific problems. Under this conception of the function of arithmetic, the course centres about the problems. Attention is called to the very large number of problems in which the data must be gathered at first hand by teacher and student. In fact, it is impossible to carry out the purposes of this book within the narrow confines of the classroom.
In The Teaching of Geometry at Tuskegee, Woodard begins with an example of the character of geometry teaching at the Tuskegee Institute which again shows how education at the school was highly technical rather than academic:-
One day a group of Tuskegee students was engaged in putting the finishing touches to a new building on the Institute grounds. To one young man, who was learning the carpenter's trade, was assigned the work of laying some molding. For quite a while he pursued his work quickly and successfully. then his job led him to a certain corner of the building which deviated considerably from the usual right angle. What was he to do? Never before had he laid molding round such a corner. Now the problem consisted in finding the angle for cutting the molding so as to make a proper fit. Failing to think out the problem, the student by a trial and error method was finally able to make the molding fit as desired. But this trial and error method involved not only a loss of time but also a waste of material. This happened in Friday, a day on which this particular carpenter was wholly engaged in industrial work. According to the Tuskegee system, a "day" student in a week spends three days at his trade and three days in academic work, the "trade" days alternating with the "academic" days. On the day after the incident mentioned, the student reported the affair to his class in geometry. After he had attempted to give a statement of his difficulties, the class visited the scene of the event. Again the student explained the situation. Finally, a method was worked out on the spot whereby the molding could be cut without waste. But the method arrived at, while it eliminated all waste, was unsatisfactory in that it was very slow in operation. On the next "academic" day the problem was again discussed and referred for further discussion to a committee of three carpenters (students) who were members of this class in geometry. This committee consulted the instructors in carpentry and all other available sources of information. Altogether three methods were propose for the task. A model representing the corner of the room was brought into the classroom together with pieces of molding, a saw, and the like. Each method was actually exhibited before the class and the geometrical principles concerned in each were thoroughly discussed.
In 1914, Woodard left the Tuskegee Institute and became a teacher at Wilberforce College where he had himself studied as a student. On 12 September 1918 he completed a Registration Card in which he is described as follows: Height - Medium; Build - Slender; Colour of Eyes - Grey; Colour of Hair - Brown. He taught at Wilberforce until 1920 when he was appointed as a lecturer at Howard University. He served at Howard as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences [4]:-
In the early 1920s Dudley Woodard began taking advanced mathematics courses in the summer sessions at Columbia University. It then became clear that he was among the gifted mathematicians in the nation.
In 1927, at the age of 46, he took research leave from Howard University and enrolled in the Graduate School of the University of Pennsylvania to undertake research for a Ph.D. in mathematics. At the University of Pennsylvania, he was advised by John Robert Kline (1891-1955) who had been a Ph.D. student of Robert Lee Moore and had been appointed to the University of Pennsylvania in 1920. Woodard was awarded a Ph.D. on Wednesday, 28 June 1928, for his thesis On Two-Dimensional Analysis Situs with Special Reference to the Jordan Curve Theorem. We note that 'analysis situs' is the topic which today is called 'topology'. To get an idea of the content of the thesis we quote from the Introduction:-
R L Moore, in his paper, "On the Foundations of Plane Analysis Situs", Transactions of the American Mathematical Society, Volume 17, 1916, proposed three systems of axioms, S1,S2,S3S_{1}, S_{2}, S_{3}, for the development of two-dimensional analysis situs. ... In Axiom 8, which belongs to all three systems, Moore assumes that every simple closed curve is the boundary of at least one region, that is, that every simple closed curve defines a bounded connected set of connected exterior having further properties implied by certain other axioms of the three systems. The chief purpose of this investigation is to replace Moore's Axiom 8 by another axiom of such nature that no property of the simple closed curve is assumed. The Jordan curve theorem in its most general form appears as the fundamental theorem of the set of theorems. Two systems, I and II, are presented. It is proved that (1) all of Moore's theorems follow as consequences of each of the systems of axioms, (2) every simple closed curve is the boundary of a set of points having all the properties of a region, (3) every space satisfying the set designated as Axiom I is homeomorphic with the Euclidean plane and (4) there exist spaces satisfying Axiom II that are "neither metrical, descriptive, nor separable". The proof of the Jordan curve theorem for spaces of the type described in (4) constitutes perhaps the most interesting result in the development that follows. ... I wish to express my deep obligation to Dr J R Kline who suggested the problem and whose helpful criticism has been of inestimable value.
We note that with the award of a Ph.D., Woodard became the second African American to be awarded a Ph.D. in mathematics (the first was Elbert Frank Cox in 1925). He returned to Howard University in Washington D.C.. In the Washington, District of Columbia, City Directory of 1929 he is listed as living at 127 West Street North West with his wife Gertrude Woodard. His son by this time was 20 years old and was no longer living with his parents.

In 1929 Woodard established a Master of Science programme in mathematics at Howard University. One of the first students on the course was William Waldron Schieffelin Claytor. Claytor had entered Howard University in September 1925 where he was taught by Woodard. He graduated with a B.S. in mathematics in 1929, joining the M.S. course in the first year that it ran. Advised by Woodard, Claytor took the courses offered on group theory, topology, number theory, real analysis and complex analysis. He graduated with an M.S. in 1930, one of the first students to be awarded an M.S. from Howard University.

Woodard achieved other important things at Howard. He [9]:-
... obtained the necessary resources and administrative support for a mathematics library, and sponsored visiting professorships and scholarly seminars. When he retired in 1947 as chairman of the department, he had led Howard's mathematics faculty through a quarter century of steady advancement. In an age of discrimination, Dudley Weldon Woodard had competed and triumphed in the face of overwhelming odds. Penn is proud to claim him among its most distinguished alumni.
In many ways he was the highest achieving African American in his day. He published two papers, On two dimensional analysis situs with special reference to the Jordan Curve Theorem in the prestigious journal Fundamenta Mathematicae in 1929 and the paper The characterization of the closed N-cell in the equally prestigious journal Transactions of the American Mathematics Society in 1937. These are considered the first mathematics papers by an African American to be published in a top class mathematics journal.

We get an idea of Woodard's character from the following quote [11]:-
Among his colleagues and students, Woodard excelled and was very popular as professor and as an administrator. Additionally, he was apparently highly respected by those who knew him in the mathematical sciences community. Deane Montgomery, former president of the American Mathematical Society and the International Mathematical Union described Woodard as, "an extremely nice man, well-balanced personally." Leo Zippin, who was an internationally known specialist in Woodard's field, said that he was "one of the noblest men I've ever known." Dr Woodard was not only a brilliant mathematician, but a man of high intelligence and dignity; he enjoyed life in spite of his racial environment. He used the phrase, "black is beautiful" in the 1930s; he often ignored the "colored" signs and visited any men's room of his choice. He also ate at many "nice" restaurants and enjoyed the theatres of his choice in New York. He and his family once moved in what had been an all-white neighbourhood because it was aesthetically nice and it was near Howard.
In April 1942, Woodard completed a Registration Form. At this time he was 60 years old. He his described as a Negro, 5' 10" tall, 152 lbs weight, Grey Hair, and Light Brown complexion.

He lived for nearly 20 years after retiring and died in his home in Cleveland Ohio.

The National Association of Mathematicians honours Woodard with the Claytor-Woodard Lectures. For information about these lectures, see THIS LINK.

References (show)

  1. V K Newell, J H Gipson, L W Rich, and B Stubblefield, Black Mathematicians and their Works (Dorrance & Company, 1980).
  2. J Taylor (ed.), The Negro in Science (Morgan State College Press, 1955).
  3. J A Donaldson, Black Americans in Mathematics, in A Century of Mathematics in America. Volume 3 (American Mathematical Society, Providence, 1989), 449-469.
  4. Dudley Weldon Woodard, Black History in America. http://www.myblackhistory.net/Dudley_Woodard.htm
  5. Dudley Woodard, one of Texas' finest, African American Registry. https://aaregistry.org/story/dudley-woodard-one-of-texas-finest/
  6. J L Houston, Dudley Weldon Woodard (1881-1965), National Association of Mathematicians Newsletter 32 (4) (2001).
  7. J L Houston, Ten African American Pioneers and Mathematicians who inspired me, Notices Amer. Math. Soc. 65 (2) (2018), 139-143.
  8. P C Kenshaft, Black Men and Women in Mathematical Research, Journal of Black Studies 19 (2) (1987), 170-190.
  9. Pioneer African American Mathematicians, Penn University Archives & Records Center (1999). https://archives.upenn.edu/exhibits/penn-history/african-american-mathematicians
  10. M Shakil, Dr Dudley Weldon Woodard, the First African-American Mathematician to Publish a Research Paper in an International Accredited Mathematics Journal - A Historical Introduction. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/236577614_Dr_Dudley_Weldon_Woodard_the_First_African-American_Mathematician_to_Publish_a_Research_Paper_in_an_International_Accredited_Mathematics_Journal_-_A_Historical_Introduction
  11. S W Williams, Dudley Weldon Woodard, Mathematicians of the African Diaspora, The Mathematics Department, State University of New York at Buffalo (2008). http://www.math.buffalo.edu/mad/PEEPS/woodard_dudleyw.html

Additional Resources (show)

Other pages about Dudley Woodard:

  1. Claytor-Woodard lectures

Cross-references (show)

Written by J J O'Connor and E F Robertson
Last Update November 2019