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From Notices of the AMS

The Unfailing Optimism of Dr. Gloria Ford Gilmer (1928-2021)

Gloria Ford Gilmer smiling, wearing glasses and a grey suit

by Tanya Moore
Josh Levy


Chatting with a friend at a wedding reception one day, a guest's braided hair caught Gloria Gilmer's eye. [1] Her friend, unimpressed, turned to her and said, "I can't stand that hairstyle!" "But look at his scalp," Gilmer replied. "It's completely tessellated with hexagons!" Her friend laughed. Gloria Ford Gilmer was known for seeing mathematics in places others did not. But she was also known for understanding the power mathematics could have in building a more just and equitable world. So the tessellations stayed with her, and within a few years became the basis for a project that aimed to bring hair braiding into the math classroom, asking not only how their geometry could help students build skills but how math could help stylists outside the classroom build community wealth. Over the course of a long career, Gilmer brought a unique vision and drive to her classrooms, to the professional spaces of the mathematics community, and to the growing international ethnomathematics movement.

In 2022, Gloria Gilmer became the first Black woman mathematician to have her papers archived in the Library of Congress. Her career blended a lifelong effort to empower students to learn math for themselves with a spectrum of broader civil rights concerns, linking what she sometimes called "mathematical power" to a deep commitment to equity and justice.

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Also in Notices
The Contributions of Chuu-Lian Terng to Geometry
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