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Etta Zuber Falconer (1933 – September 18, 2002) was an educator and mathematician who was one of the first African American women to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics.[1]


Etta Zuber was born in Tupelo, Mississippi to Walter A. Zuber, a physician, and Zadie L. Montgomery Zuber, a musician.[2] The Zubers had two daughters, with Etta being the younger and Alice the older. While teaching at Okolona Junior College in Okolona, Mississippi, Etta met and married Dolan Falconer, a basketball coach.[3] They had three children – Dolan Falconer Jr., who became a nuclear engineer; Alice Falconer Wilson, a pediatrician; and Walter Zuber Falconer, a urologist.[4] The couple's marriage lasted over 35 years, ended by Dolan's death.


Etta Falconer attended the Tupelo public school system, graduating from George Washington High School in 1949.[2] At the age of 15 she entered Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, where she majored in mathematics and minored in chemistry, graduating summa cum laude in 1953.[4][2] While at Fisk, Falconer was inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa academic honor society.[1]

She went on to study at the University of Wisconsin, where she earned a Master of Science degree in mathematics in 1954. Lonely in Wisconsin, she decided not to pursue her doctorate there and returned to Mississippi to teach.[5] After a 1965 family move to Atlanta, she entered graduate school at Emory University. At Emory she earned a Ph.D. in mathematics in 1969, with a dissertation on abstract algebra.

To assist in setting up a computer science department while mathematics department head at Spelman College, she returned to graduate school at Atlanta University, earning a Master of Science degree in computer science in 1982.[6]

Teaching career

Falconer began her teaching career in 1954 at Okolona Junior College, where she met and married Dolan Falconer. She remained at Okolona until 1963, when she accepted a position at Howard High School in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where she taught the academic year 1963-64. When her husband was offered a coaching position at Morris Brown College in 1965, the family moved to Atlanta, also the site of Spelman College, an historically black women's college.

Falconer's mother had studied at Spelman, and Falconer approached the head of the mathematics department, telling him that she wanted to teach there.[1][7] She was appointed an instructor in 1965. Falconer advanced to associate professor, leaving Spelman in 1971 to join the mathematics department at Norfolk State University, where she taught for the academic year 1971-1972. Falconer returned to Spelman as professor of mathematics and head of the mathematics department.[7]

Falconer devoted 37 years of her life to teaching mathematics and improving science education at Spelman College. In 1995, she stated "My entire career has been devoted to increasing the number of African American women in mathematics and mathematics-related careers."[1]

Awards and recognition

In 1995, Falconer was honored by the Association for Women in Mathematics, who awarded her the Louise Hay Award for outstanding achievements in mathematics education.[8] In 2001, she received the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Mentor Award for Lifetime Achievement.[9]


1. ^ a b c d Black Women In Mathematics: Etta Zuber Falconer
2. ^ a b c Biography at The Mathematical Association of America
3. ^ Spelman's Legendary Math and Science Professor Passes On
4. ^ a b Etta Zuber Falconer (1933-2002) (PDF, 29 pages)
5. ^ Zuber Falconer – Mathematician, Educator
6. ^ "Promoting Diversity in the Mathematical Sciences", Infinite Possibilities Conference (PDF, 77 pages)
7. ^ a b Biography at University of St Andrews School of Mathematics and Statistics
8. ^ 5th Louise Hay Award, Citation for Etta Z. Falconer
9. ^ AAAS Mentor Award Recipients

External links

* "Etta Falconer", Biographies of Women Mathematicians, Agnes Scott College
* Abstract of doctoral dissertation "Isotopy Invariants in Quasigroups"


Mathematics Encyclopedia

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